As a food group, the proteins in food and therefore your diet are a key player in the growth and repair of the various tissues that make up our bodies.
The unique protein strands that are found in human muscle help us to grow from children to adults, and, once we are grown, proteins in food are responsible for repairing damage to our muscle fibre and other body tissues caused by injury. And lastly, these molecules can also be used to provide energy to our bodies.
The protein molecule is constructed from chains of compounds called amino acids, which contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, as well as occasionally sulphur. An average molecule can consist of up to 500 individual amino acids. When we consume this molecule, the digestive process separates it out into single amino acids, which are absorbed by our bodies. These amino acids are then used to create the human molecules responsible for tissue growth and repair.
Though we normally think of it as being found in meat products, this important nutrient is also available in differing amounts in plants sources, such as pulses and cereals. This means that vegetarians and vegans are perfectly capable of meeting their nutritional needs by consuming combinations of different nutrient-rich plant foods.
According to accepted average bodily requirements for this vital nutrient, adults need 0.6g per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women need more. However, because the rate we grow and change varies throughout our lifetime, the exact amount of this nutrient we need to improve and repair our bodies also varies. It's also important to remember that it's not just the amount that needs to be considered in a well balanced diet, but also the quality of the of this nutrient we take into our bodies. Different sources contain different amino acids, and we need a range because there are eight individual amino acids that are essential to good health. Rather than try and quantify, it's recommended that we make sure we eat a wide range of plant and meat food sources for optimum intake of this all-important nutrient.