Everyone has heard of protein, but what is it really? Protein is one of three key nutrients that give our bodies energy and are vital to our health.
Your body relies on protein to build and maintain your muscles, your organs and your immune system. It also keeps your hair, skin and nails healthy. In fact, your body is mainly composed of protein.
Protein itself is basically amino acids. Your body produces 13 of the 22 amino acids it needs, but must get the remaining nine from food. These are called essential amino acids.
Complete vs. Incomplete
Animal foods such as eggs, poultry, meat, fish and dairy contain all nine of these essential amino acids, and because of that, they are called complete proteins.
Plant foods such as beans, rice, peanut butter and whole-wheat bread individually are missing some of the nine essential amino acids, but when you pair them together, they become complete proteins.
For example, peanut butter does not have all the amino acids your body needs, but if you eat a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread, you're set. The same is true for beans and rice.
There is a wide world of good-tasting, protein-filled foods to choose from. Check out our guide to smart protein choices in food.
Your Protein Needs
Protein is an important part of a healthy diet. The other macronutrients that your body requires in large amounts to thrive are carbohydrates and fats.
The nutrition experts at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommend that adults get 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein, 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates and 20 to 35 percent of calories from fats.
Do you eat enough protein daily? Not everyone does. Women, in particular, often have less than an ideal amount of protein in their diets, says FoodFit nutritionist Christine Palumbo.
FoodFit Plan members can assess their nutritional needs with our helpful tool, the FoodFit Profile.
You may not have realized it, but protein really fills you up. Importantly, Palumbo says it's easier to manage your weight if you eat enough protein.
"The presence of protein in a meal helps make you feel satisfied while you're eating it," she explains. "It also 'stays with you' until the next meal, making you less likely to turn to snacks."