Protein is a very important component of a healthy diet. Our body needs protein for the repair and regeneration of muscle and other tissues. Production of hormones, enzymes and hemoglobin requires protein. Protein is also a source of energy.
Protein is a big molecule made up of small units called amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids needed to form different types of proteins for various body functions. There are 3 category of amino acids:
- Non-essential amino acids – our body manufactures them.
- Essential amino acids – our body does not manufacture them and we need to obtain them from food.
- Conditional amino acids – our body needs them during illness or stress.
Most of the food we eat will provide us with some source of protein. Which is the best protein source? Here are the main types of protein in our diet:
It is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids. However, the risk with eating animal protein is the high saturated fat and cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. Animal protein contains sulphur-containing amino acids, which increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Based on the saturated fat content, the best choice of animal protein is fish, followed by poultry. Red meat from beef, lamb and pork is the last. Eat them less often but if you should eat them, choose the red meat from lean cuts.
Most of plant-based protein is lacking in one or more essential amino acid. However, it is low in fat and cholesterol but high in phytochemicals and minerals as well as fiber. Eating more plant protein reduces the risk of heart disease and improve your immune system.
Soy protein is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids as well as high in Branch Chain Amino Acids ( BCAA). BCAA is important for stimulating the building of protein in muscle and preventing muscle breakdown.
Milk protein is 80% casein and 20% whey protein.
Whey protein is the translucent part of milk that remains following the process of cheese manufacturing. The manufacturing process removes lactose and fat, which makes it suitable for people who are lactose intolerance.
Whey protein is easily absorbed (about 61%) because it is broken down during the manufacturing process.
Casein protein is the component that causes the white colour of milk. It contains calcium and phosphorus as well as BCAA. Casein is best for protein synthesis for prolong duration because it is slow absorbing (about 31%) and releases amino acids slowly.
Colostrum is a form of milk protein produced by mammals just before giving birth. It contains antibodies to protect the new-born against diseases. It also contains growth factors to promote cellular growth and synthesis of genetic materials (DNA).
Which protein is the best?
One method of determining the quality of a protein is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acids Score (PDCAAS). It is a score representing the amino acid requirement of our body as well as how well the body can digest and absorb it. A score of one is the best and complete while less than one means some amino acids are missing.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) in 1993 adopted the PDCAAS as the preferred method to determine the quality of protein.
Milk protein, egg white, soy protein, whey protein, most meat have the score of one. Beef has a lower score because of the high content of tendon and collagen within the meat and they do not contain much amino acid.
As mentioned earlier, while the PDCAAS score for most animal protein is one, there are risks for eating too much animal protein. On the other hand, plant protein has many benefits without the risks of animal protein but it is not complete.
The American Heart Association guideline recommends 5-6 servings of whole grains and 5 more servings of vegetables and fruits would supply all the essential amino acid necessary for good health.
Go ahead and take charge of your health by increasing your protein intake from plant.
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