More and more people are beginning to accept the importance of eating enough protein throughout the day in order to help maintain their metabolic health. Most of us understand that eating meat is but one way to accomplish this. There are, in fact, many sources of dietary protein: red meat, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, soy, and other legumes (nuts and beans), just to name a few. Does it really matter which proteins we choose, as long as we are eating them?
In order to answer this question, we need to have a basic understanding of some physiology related to proteins. These substances are formed from combining amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Our bodies combine different amino acids in varying combinations to make proteins that are then used for many different processes, including building (or maintaining) muscle. There are 20 standard amino acids and 9 of them are termed essential amino acids because our bodies cannot manufacture them (which means they must be supplied from our diet). Additionally, one of the essential amino acids, Leucine, has been shown in research studies to be crucial for specific pathways necessary for optimal muscle building.
It then becomes easy to predict that the proteins we eat are not all equal and that those sources high in the essential amino acids, especially Leucine, are very beneficial. These types of foods are commonly referred to as “high-quality protein”. Animal sources of protein (including all meat/fish, dairy products, and eggs) and soy are considered “high-quality” or complete proteins because they contain all of these amino acids that our bodies need, including leucine.
For people who wish to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, different foods can be combined in order to obtain all of the essential amino acids. Please give us a call to schedule an appointment and learn more about this topic.