Proteins are made from building blocks called amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of life, as protein is found in every cell of the human body. There are twenty amino acids in total, 9 essential and 11 non essential. Most protein molecules are made from over 100 amino acids. The number and combination of amino acids in a protein will determine its function. Protein is the main component of skin, hair, nails, muscles, organs and glands.
Growth and repair
Protein repairs damaged cells and makes new ones. It is extremely important during growth an development during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. It can be found in animal sources such as meat, fish and eggs, and plant sources such as beans, legumes, and nuts.
Essential Amino Acids
Nine of the amino acids are considered essential as the body is unable to synthesise them itself. A complete protein is food source that contain all nine of the essential amino acids such as eggs, meat, dairy, soy, and quinoa. Plants are considered to be incomplete proteins as they do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids. It is still possible for a vegetarian to consume a diet that includes all the essential amino acids if they eat a variety of plant based proteins. Appropriate combinations include:
- Rice and pulses
- Vegetables and seeds
- Nuts and vegetables
- Grains and pulses
Non-Essential Amino Acids
These are made by the body from the essential amino acids. Without adequate consumption of the essential amino acids the body can not synthesise these. The are also present in many foods but are not always a required part of the diet.
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
These are also present in many foods and not always a required part of the diet. As long as we consume enough of the nine essential amino acids the liver can synthesises the remaining conditionally essential amino acids. During certain times in life these amino acids must be supplied to ensure good health.