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What is Protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient your body needs to take in every day to work properly and is found throughout your body.

Your organs, muscles, bones, nails and hair are mostly made up of protein. Protein helps re-build, maintain and repair body tissues, such as muscle and nervous tissue. Your body also uses it to make new cells and to create specialized proteins, such as hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen to your body and support a healthy immune system.

Protein is made up of building blocks, called amino acids. There are 21 amino acids; the body makes 12 of them, which are called nonessential amino acids; the other nine your body cannot make on its own.

To help you get all the essential amino acids your body needs, choose high-quality protein, including animal foods, such as dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt), eggs, lean beef, pork, skinless poultry and fish. Whey protein, which is naturally found in milk and often added to smoothies or energy bars, is also a good source of high-quality protein. Plant proteins, such as beans, peas, seeds, nuts, vegetables and grains, can also help meet protein needs; however, separately they do not provide significant amounts of the essential amino acids the body needs. Therefore, you will need to eat a variety of plant proteins to consume an adequate amount of all 9 essential amino acids.

Although most Americans meet their daily protein needs, diets higher in protein can help you re-build and maintain healthy muscles, and with adequate calcium, help maintain healthy bones, manage your weight and control hunger. No matter your age, your body needs to replenish its protein stores each day. In fact, diets higher in protein, along with endurance and resistance exercise,  can help preserve muscle as you age to help you stay active. Some experts suggest that you may benefit from eating approximately 20-30 grams of protein at each meal to help achieve a higher protein diet.

Check out these recipes and tips below to find easy ways to add more protein to your day: