The human body is a complex thing that uses lots of different components to build and maintain itself. One of the key ones is the protein which is why a high protein snack such as Biltong is so important. But what do our bodies use protein for and why is it so important that we get enough of the right stuff into our diets?
Let’s start with the very basics – what is protein? Protein is like a string long string of sausages. Only instead of being meat, each ‘sausage’ is one of 15 molecules known as amino acids. The order these amino acids are found is based on DNA. There are different types of protein including solid, flexible and mobile. And in order to do their jobs, proteins need to use minerals and vitamins.
Despite being crucial to our well-being, our intestine can’t absorb the whole protein. Instead, it breaks it down into smaller chains of two or three amino acids known as peptides. Our bodies even use a special type of protein called digestive enzymes to break down the larger protein into smaller peptides and then let the body use them.
Each human body has anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 proteins in it. Each has a unique gene in our DNA that organised the 22 amino acids into unique sequences. Our bodies also constantly break down and form these proteins, reusing and recycling amino acids as needed.
A good way to better understand what all that means is to look at some examples of protein in action in our bodies and why it is crucial in the diet.
Muscle mass is a good starter. To have strong muscles, supporting tendons and ligaments, protein is needed. That’s why a high protein snack is a key part of a fitness regime and why bodybuilders, for example, eat a very high protein diet. Protein also helps developer leaner muscle – if you don’t have the right proteins, then your muscles waste (muscle atrophy) and you lose strength.
Another benefit of having the right protein in your diet is that it can help you lose weight. It does this by filling up the stomach and making you not crave something else to eat. Overeating is a top reason for weight problems and it is often caused by us not feeling full. Eating the right balance of protein can help combat this and avoid overeating.
Controlling blood sugar levels is very important for people with diabetes but can also be important for people without it. Insulin is a hormone that is used to process carbohydrates, fat and protein. Carbohydrates need a lot more of it than fat or protein. So, the response from your body to different foods such as these is different. High carb or high sugar foods raise the levels of blood sugar, but protein has the opposite effect.
It is easy to forget that what we eat can directly impact our mood and how we feel. Some of the amino acids in protein are naturally balancing hormones that help you feel better and avoid anxiety. Protein also helps neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that help improve mood and make us feel happy.
Like any component of the diet, it is important to balance the amount of protein in the diet as too much of anything is never a good thing. But it is easy to look at how much protein you are consuming and use high protein snack to boost levels if you are eating too little. That way you supply your body with all the good stuff it needs to stay healthy.
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