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Protein: What You Need To Know

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Proteins: What You Need To Know





When people think of proteins, they usually think of it as something that we eat as part of our diet. In fact, everything from the color of the hair to inherited talents is determined by the way people’s bodies are genetically programmed to make proteins.

The three main classes of food are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Fats and carbohydrates supply our energy needs, while proteins are the actual building blocks from which the body is made. A minimum intake is needed to maintain the body’s reconstruction and repair processes so that it remains healthy, especially in growing children (Jacoby and Younson, 2005). 








What is protein?


Nelson and Cox (2005) describe proteins as molecules that are twisted chains of smaller compounds called amino acids, which are vital to the body’s survival. Proteins are the only major food group to contain nitrogen. Twenty amino acids make up all the proteins found in food; eight are essential to the diet, since the body cannot make them itself. The other 12 can be made in the body, although its ability to do this sometimes fails. Acids and enzymes in the digestive system break down food protein into its constituent amino acids. These can then be absorbed by the intestine, passed on to the liver, and enter the bloodstream (Jacoby and Youngson, 2005).

What does protein do?


The most important role of protein within the body is as a building block. People’s tissues are made with protein, and the central substance of connective tissues holding the various organs and tissues together is a protein molecule called Collagen (Jacoby and Youngson, 2005).

Enzymes are also protein molecules. They act as catalysts for the chemical reactions the body depends upon. Proteins also circulate in the blood. The small molecules of Albumin help keep fluid in the bloodstream; the larger group of Globulin proteins includes the Immunoglobulin’s or Antibodies, the body’s main defense against infection (Lodish et al, 2004).

Some hormones are proteins, and they are also vital to the overall functioning of the body. Insulin is an example of a protein hormone. Insulin is made of two protein chains linked together. The body’s entire protein structure is renewed about once every 60 days. Food and recycled body proteins replenish the blood, liver, and other tissues, and cells drain this supply to make new proteins (Lodish et. al, 2004).







Protein and genetics


Heredity is based on a code passed from one generation to the next, telling the cells how to make proteins. Information in the chromosomes specifies the amino acid sequence in each body protein. Every inherited characteristic, from eye color to musical talent, originates in coded instructions passed on by the parents.



Jacoby, D.B. and Youngson, R.M. (2005). Encyclopedia of Family Health. Volume: 12. (Ed 3): New York.

Lodish, H. and Berk, A. and Matsudaira, P. and Kaiser, C.A. and , M. and Scott, M.P. and Zipurksy, S.L. and Darnell, J. (2004). Molecular Cell Biology (5th ed.). New York, New York: WH Freeman and Company.

Nelson, D.L. and Cox, M.M. (2005). Lehninger's Principles of Biochemistry (4th ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

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