2 Being Well
Digestion, Health and Nutrition

Proteins

Significant amounts of protein can be found in lean meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. On a sliding scale, legumes (beans) and grains such as quinoa and amaranth, as well as vegetables, nuts and seeds, offer varying amounts of protein. Animal protein and vegetable protein generally have the same effects on health. It’s the balance of other nutrients like fat and fiber that make them different. Foods with the highest protein content come from animal products. However, animal products are high in saturated fats, low in fiber, and lack the phytonutrients* found in colored vegetables. Balance, then, becomes a key in selecting protein foods. Protein foods, when digested properly provided the body with the necessary amino acids that are the key ingredients in the maintenance, repair, and renewal of all of the tissues in the body. *Phytonutrients – plant compounds that are thought to have health-protecting qualities.

Proteins present in food appear as chains that fold, origami-like, into intricate, three-dimensional structures. The chains vary in length, containing a unique shuffle of amino acids. The body requires a daily supply of amino acids because it doesn’t store them, as it does fats (triglycerides) or carbohydrates (glucose). Protein is found throughout the body— as the structural components of muscle, bone, skin, hair, as well as molecular components of enzymes, hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, to name just a few. Twenty or so basic building blocks, called amino acids, provide the raw material for all proteins

You may have heard the old adage “you are what you eat;” with regard to protein the case can definitely be made that you are what you absorb. An individual can eat adequate amounts of protein and yet become protein deficient due to poor digestive and absorptive function. Dietary protein entering the stomach arrives as tightly folded coils. The task of stomach acids, which operate at pH levels equivalent to battery acid, is to bathe the tightly coiled protein, causing the coils to relax exposing “pop bead like” strands of amino acids.

A stunning number of factors have to happen at just the right time, in the correct amounts and at the optimal environmental pH to insure that food protein is deconstructed into amino acids. Ultimately the fate of amino acids is to be repackaged into other proteins that will be vital to maintaining healthy organ function, tissue repair, memory processing, emotional balance, meeting cellular energy demands, and hormone and enzyme production. Over twenty amino acids have been identified; ten are termed essential meaning they must be obtained from foods you eat, while others are termed conditionally essential and non-essential. The conditionally essential amino acids can be manufactured in the body by using one or more of the essential amino acids, however they can become essential during periods of stress and chronic illness.

Essential Amino Acidss

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Conditionally Essential Amino Acid

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Taurine
  • Tyrosine

The two most common causes of amino acid deficiency are failure to eat adequate amounts of protein and/or an inability to fully de-construct protein due to poor digestive function. Insufficient absorption of protein results in declining levels of amino acids. This may be observed as dull hair, brittle nails or wounds to skin that don’t heal quickly. More serious amino acid deficiency may be experienced as declining vision, a weakened immune system or mood and emotional imbalances. Because amino acids make vital chemical messengers for use in the brain, inadequate protein intake or absorption can result in poor mental function such as an inability to focus, feeling blocked and scattered or having a short attention span. Unbalanced brain chemistry can lead to a number of negative health issues including depression, anxiety, insomnia, lowered pain tolerance, or procrastination issues.
Many health disorders begin as simple amino acid deficiencies. How did you score in the Brain chemistry section of the website’s “health check”?

Complete Proteins vs. Incomplete Proteins

In meal planning the important concept to consider with protein are complete proteins. Complete proteins foods are those that contain all of the essential amino acids. The protein in meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, quinoa and soy is considered complete. Incomplete protein foods contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. Foods such as whole grains, legumes (beans) and vegetables fall into this category. Thoughtful choices made in combining incomplete protein foods, however, can provide a full, complete protein meal that will supply adequate amounts of essential amino acids. For instance, combining rice and beans, peanut butter (preferably organic) on bread or leafy green vegetables and root vegetables makes for a balanced protein meal. These foods do not need to be eaten at the same time in order to be used by the body to build protein; you just need to eat these complementary proteins within 24 hours.

Along with poultry, fish, eggs and soy, I encourage you to add whole grains and legumes and vegetables to your diet to assure that you are eating quality sources of protein. Beans provide a terrific source of quality protein but are largely ignored in meal planning, possibly due to there reputation for developing intestinal gas. Consistent exposure to the fiber in beans will naturally reduce the gas issue for most people If you avoid eating beans or other foods because of bloating and/or gas, consider taking digestive enzymes following meals.