Protein is incredibly important for good health. It’s a nutrient that must be consumed every day to meet your body’s needs. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, or 0.8 grams per kilogram. However, a lot of evidence supports a higher protein intake for weight loss and other health benefits.
This article takes a detailed look at protein’s beneficial effects and provides guidance for achieving the best results on a high-protein diet.
What Is Protein and Why Is It Important?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, along with carbs and fat.
In your body, it performs the following roles:
- Repair and maintenance: Protein is the main component of your muscles, bones, skin and hair. These tissues are continuously repaired and replaced with new protein.
- Hormones: Chemical messenger proteins allow cells and organs in your body to communicate with each other.
- Enzymes: Most enzymes are proteins, and the thousands of chemical reactions that take place throughout your body are driven by them.
- Transportation and storage: Some proteins help deliver important molecules where they’re needed. For example, the protein hemoglobin carries oxygen to your body’s cells.
- Protein is made up of smaller units known as amino acids.
Of the 22 amino acids, 9 are considered “essential,” meaning they must be consumed in food because your body can’t make them.
Importantly, some foods provide better protein than others based on their amino acid profile.
Generally speaking, animal products are considered “complete protein” because they contain all the essential amino acids in the optimal amounts that your body needs. These include eggs, dairy, meat, fish and poultry.
Vegetable proteins don’t provide adequate amounts of every essential amino acid but can be combined with other plant sources to make complete protein. Beans, legumes, grains, soy, nuts and seeds are examples of high-protein plant foods.