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Protein Means Power and a Whole Lot More

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Lean Lingo

Amino acids are called the “building blocks of life.” Protein from food is digested into amino acids. The amino acids are used to build and maintain muscles and other tissues. They are also important in enzyme and hormone production.

In our world of fast foods and convenience foods, eating high-quality protein can be hard to do. Yet without protein, your hair could fall out, your fingernails could crumble, and your muscles could deteriorate into, well, mush. You are unlikely to reach your ideal size—and stay energetic—without a steady diet of high-quality protein.

Think about it. In the right quantities, steak is really good for you! So are almost all lean meats, eggs, and cheeses. Proteins give you energy, and your body needs them to manufacture hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and tissues. Your body cannot be healthy without the essential amino acids found in protein. They're called “essential” because your body can't manufacture them on its own. You need a regular dose of essential amino acids in your diet. Yes, your body needs “nonessential” amino acids, but it can synthesize them.

After water, protein makes up the largest portion of your body weight. This includes muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, and hair. Protein is needed in your diet so that your body is healthy and functions properly.

Essential and Nonessential Amino Acids

The essential amino acids can be obtained only by consuming certain protein-containing foods. They are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. All of the other amino acids are nonessential, meaning that they are manufactured in the body. In fact, some are created from the aforementioned essential amino acids.

In the simplest of terms, all of this translates to one critical point: you need to eat protein. So how do you select which proteins to add to your eating plan?

Complete or Incomplete, Take Your Pick

Lean Lingo

Complete proteins are foods that contain balanced amounts of all the essential amino acids that the human body needs to build and repair muscle and body organs. These are the animal proteins, such as meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. Incomplete proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids, but could offer nutritional value. These include soy, legumes, and grain. Food combining means eating more than one incomplete protein at a meal, which could provide adequate protein, but may not.

Protein-containing foods come in two versions:

  • Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids. These proteins are found in meats, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy.

  • Incomplete proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids. Foods with incomplete protein include grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and some leafy vegetables. Soybean products, such as tofu, tempeh, and soy protein isolate are not complete proteins because they're low or deficient in methionine.

Some individuals have difficulty digesting protein because their bodies don't secrete sufficient proteases and hydrochloric acid. Clues that you might not be digesting protein well include soft, peeling, or splitting fingernails or a heavy, unpleasant feeling after eating protein. Certain dietary supplements, discussed in Taking Supplements for Weight Loss, can help.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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