Your body is constantly burning protein
as it repairs and replaces cells. Because you're growing, you also need protein to create new cells. How else would the ends of your leg bones get longer? Protein also helps regulate zillions of your bodily processes. For instance, it's part of the antibodies
that fight off the bacteria
that can make you sick. Protein is like a baseball pitcher warming up in the bullpen. It's ready to provide backup fuel when you don't eat enough carbohydrates
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Where does protein come from?
There are lots of different kinds of protein, but all of them are made from the same 22 building blocks called amino acids
. Amino acids are in every cell of your body in different combinations. Those combinations make your hair, skin, bones, organs, and other tissues. You need to get nine of these amino acids from the food you eat. As long as you eat a healthful diet
, your body can make the other 13.
You can get all nine of the essential amino acids from animal or plant products. Meats, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products are good sources of protein. You can also get all of the amino acids your body needs from soybean products, such as tofu and soymilk. But hang on. Almost all plant-based foods contain at least one of the nine amino acids. If you eat a variety of dried beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and grains (like wheat, corn, oats, and rice), you can get all the protein your body needs. Over the course of a day, your body combines the amino acids into protein packages, giving you a complete set. back to top
How much is enough?
Shoot for about 46 total grams of protein every day from both animal and plant foods. For example, a four-ounce serving of chicken (a little larger than a deck of cards) or a four-ounce can of tuna (packed in water) contains about 30 grams of protein. That's more than half your recommended dietary allowance
. If you're a vegetarian
, be sure to get enough protein from meat alternatives
and a variety of plant sources. For example, during the course of the day, combine a grain with a legume
(peas and dried beans), and you'll get all nine essential amino acids. A corn tortilla wrapped around black beans will do the trick. back to top