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  • Writer's pictureJanice Tracey

What is Protein?

Different animal and plant proteins
Selection of animal and plant proteins

 I help women in midlife and beyond elevate their health status so they can live longer, stronger and happier lives. It's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle and getting the protein balance right is a massive part of that puzzle.

What is Protein?


Protein is a vital nutrient your body needs for growth, repair, and overall function. Imagine building a house (your body) with bricks (amino acids). If you have all the types of bricks you need (essential amino acids), you can build a strong house. If you're missing some bricks, your house won't be as sturdy. This is why getting a complete set of amino acids from your diet is crucial for good health.


Essential vs. Non-Essential Amino Acids


Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 are called essential amino acids. This means your body cannot make them on its own, and you need to get them from your diet. The other 11 are non-essential amino acids, which your body can produce.


Essential Amino Acids

Non-Essential Amino Acids

Histidine

Alanine

Isoleucine

Arginine

Leucine

Asparagine

Lysine

Aspartic Acid

Methionine

Cysteine

Phenylalanine

Glutamic Acid

Threonine

Glutamine

Tryptophan

Glycine

Valine

Proline


Serine


Tyrosine

Arginine is often considered semi-essential because, although the body can produce it, supplementation may be necessary during periods of rapid growth, illness, or stress.


Why the Quality of Protein Matters


The quality of a protein source is determined by its amino acid profile—whether it contains all essential amino acids in the right amounts. High-quality or complete proteins provide all the essential amino acids your body needs. Examples include:


  • Animal Products: Meat, fish, eggs, dairy

  • Some Plant Foods: Quinoa, soy products


Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids. Many plant-based proteins fall into this category. However, by combining different plant foods (like beans and rice), you can get all essential amino acids.


You can obtain essential amino acids from both animal and plant sources. While animal products typically contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities, several plant sources can also provide them, either individually or in combination. Here are some key points:

 

Animal Sources
  • Meat (beef, pork, lamb)

  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)

  • Fish and seafood

  • Eggs

  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)


Plant Sources

Complete Protein Sources

These plant-based foods contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts:

 

  • Quinoa

  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame)

  • Buckwheat

  • Chia seeds

  • Hemp seeds


Incomplete Protein Sources

These plant-based foods may lack one or more essential amino acids but can be combined with other plant foods to create a complete protein profile:

 

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)

  • Grains (rice, oats, wheat, barley)

  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts)

  • Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, kale)


Combining Plant Proteins

To ensure you get all essential amino acids from a plant-based diet, you can combine different types of plant foods. This is known as complementary protein pairing. Some common combinations include:

 

  • Rice and beans

  • Peanut butter on whole-grain bread

  • Hummus and pita bread

  • Lentils and quinoa



By eating a varied and balanced diet that includes a mix of these foods, it is entirely possible to obtain all essential amino acids from plant sources.


Simple Analogy


Imagine building a house (your body) with bricks (amino acids). If you have all the types of bricks you need (essential amino acids), you can build a strong house. If you're missing some bricks, your house won't be as sturdy. This is why getting a complete set of amino acids from your diet is crucial for good health.


By choosing a variety of protein sources, you ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs to function optimally.


I help women in midlife and beyond elevate their health status so they can live longer, stronger and happier lives. Getting the protein balance right is a massive part of that puzzle. If you'd like some help working out what's right for YOU, check out the Work With Me section on my website.

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