ARTICLES & GUIDES
What It Is?
Protein is found in foods from both plants and animals. Protein is made up of hundreds or thousands of smaller units called amino acids, which are linked to one another in long chains. The sequence of amino acids determines each protein’s unique structure and its specific function.
There are twenty different amino acids that can be combined to make every type of protein in the body. These amino acids fall into two categories:
- Essential amino acids are required for normal body functioning, but they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. Of the twenty amino acids, nine are considered “essential.”
- Nonessential amino acids can be made by the body from essential amino acids consumed in food or in the normal breakdown of body proteins. Of the twenty amino acids, eleven are considered “nonessential.”
Where Is It Found?
Protein is found in a variety of foods, including:
- Beans and peas
- Dairy products
- Grains and vegetables (these generally provide less protein than is found in other sources)
- Meats and poultry
- Nuts and seeds
- Seafood (fish and shellfish)
- Soy products
What It Does?
- Protein provides calories, or “energy,” for the body. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories.
- Protein is a component of every cell in the human body and is necessary for proper growth and development, especially during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.
- Protein helps your body build and repair cells and body tissue.
- Protein is a major part of your skin, hair, nails, muscle, bone, and internal organs. Protein is also found in almost all body fluids.
- Protein is important for many body processes, such as blood clotting, fluid balance, immune response, vision, and production of hormones and enzymes.
- Protein foods are also important sources of vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins (for example, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12), choline, copper, iron, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc.