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Here’s the Whole Truth: Why Complete Proteins Are Important

By Dr. Molly Casey

Protein Requirements

A healthy diet can be confusing. “Healthy” these days is an arbitrary phrase and has little to no value when someone -- or some company -- touts their product. There are tangible ways to approach diet that rely on the physiology and science of how the body works. I call it going back to the basics.

Going back to basics is the way to approach diet and anything else regarding health. One of the most important components of a diet that supports your function and structure is protein.

What Is Protein and Why Do You Need It?

There are macronutrients and micronutrients in food. Macronutrients are nutrients in food that the body needs in larger quantities (macro) to provide it with energy. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that the body needs in very small amounts (micro) to meet structure and function needs. Note that macro versus micro does not equate to more important or less important; both are imperative to a health and wholeness of the body. A deficiency in either can cause serious health issues.

Protein is one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and carbohydrates. Protein is the building block for muscles. Muscles provide support to the bones of the skeletal system and produce motion for the body at the joints. Muscle is the organ of longevity. A healthy body has more muscle than fat. Fat is for energy and storage. Note that I did not say fat is bad. It isn’t. Fat does have a purpose.

The amount and tone of the muscle in your body directly correlates with the quality of health and life. Optimal health and functioning can’t occur if there are improper proportions of muscle to fat. Too little muscle and too much fat creates an overburden of storage, and function suffers.

What Is a Complete vs. Incomplete Protein?

Protein is the building block of muscle, but what makes up protein? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids that collectively give the body what it needs to make proteins. Nine of the 20 amino acids are not made by the body and must be ingested through food or supplements; these are called essential amino acids. Any protein food that contains all 20 amino acids is called a complete protein. Complete proteins contain all 11 non-essential (the body can make them) and the nine essential amino acids.

Incomplete proteins contain less than nine of the 20 essential amino acids. It’s imperative that we humans are ingesting complete proteins. Examples of complete proteins are fish, poultry, beef, pork, and eggs. There are some protein shakes and meal supplements that contain complete amino acid profiles and some that do not.

How Much Protein, Really?

The most current research supports that muscle is the organ of longevity and that protein is an essential component of an optimally healthy life. The daily minimum recommendation of intake is 1 gram of protein per ideal body weight. So, if one’s ideal body weight is 128 pounds, the minimal optimal daily intake is 128 grams of protein.

It is important to remember that not all protein sources are created equal. A complete protein not only has all nine essential amino acids, it is as clean as possible, meaning as few chemicals, hormones, and grains as possible. An ideal complete protein is organic, pasture-raised poultry and eggs; optimal beef is organic, pasture-raised, and grass-finished; and wild-caught fish are all considered the cleanest. Whenever you can get these from a local source, the better off you and your health will be.

Muscle provides support for the structure of your body and produces motion. The amount and quality of your muscles are more important than you likely are aware. One tangible step you can take daily to improve the health of muscle in your body is to consume 1 gram of complete protein per pound of ideal body weight. Taking care of your muscles play an important role in the health and functioning of your body and your quality of life. In all likelihood, that quality of life will improve.

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