Importance of Protein – Part 1


A Short Lesson In Protein

For most of us, protein has been on our plates every night at the dinner table. We read about protein all the time – from celebrity Atkins diets and caveman Paleo way of eating to protein shakes and bodybuilding chicken and broccoli diets…Seems that protein is always at the center of our health. But do we actually know why?

In this two-part blog post, we’ve looked into why protein is one of the most misunderstood nutrients in our diets today. In today’s article we explain what proteins actually are and why they are so imperative to our bodies.

Background on Protein

Protein is one of the three macro-nutrients that our bodies need to sustain life. Fats, carbohydrates and protein all provide our body with energy to function. Proteins are used every day to develop, grow and maintain every part of our body – from our skin and hair to digestive enzymes and our immune system.

Protein is made up of amino acids, the ‘building blocks’ of protein. Of the 20 standard amino acids found in proteins, some are made by the body (non-essential amino acids) and others are needed to be consumed in our diets (essential amino acids).

Proteins are found in both animal and plant foods. The amino acid profile of animal proteins is closer to that of humans but all of the necessary amino acids can be provided in the amounts needed from plant sources.

The major sources of protein in the Australian and New Zealand diet are:

  • Meat, poultry and fish (about 33%),
  • Cereals and cereal-based foods (about 25%) and
  • Dairy foods (about 16%)
  • Vegetables (about 8%)

Certain proteins can cause allergic responses in some individuals notably milk, eggs, peanuts and soy in children and fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts in adults.

Why Do We Need To Eat Protein?

Unlike carbohydrate and fats, the body does not maintain an energy storage form of protein. Proteins are constantly being broken down and used by our bodies and therefore must be replaced. When protein is broken down in the body, it helps to fuel muscle mass which helps metabolism. To gain muscle mass, it is important to consider the best dietary protein sources, the total amount of protein we need, how we digest it and its content of essential amino acids.

Our bodies use protein to survive. For example, the body of a 76 kg man contains about 12 kg of protein. Nearly half of this protein is present as skeletal muscle, while other structural tissues such as blood and skin contain about 15%. Only 1% of the body’s protein store is able to change, so its availability as a reserve energy store, compared to body fat, is limited.

Next week we learn about how protein impacts our bodies and how much of it is really good for us. We also look into the best sources of protein – you wouldn’t believe what made the list!

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by Serena Galante – Health, Wellness & Nutrition


Lentner C. Geigy Scientific Tables, 8th edition, Volume 1. Units of measurement, body fluids, composition of the body, nutrition. West Caldwell, NJ: Ciba-Geigy Corporation, 1981.

Waterlow JC. The assessment of protein nutrition and metabolism in the whole animal, with special reference to man. In: Munro HN, ed. Mammalian protein metabolism, Vol III. New York:Academic Press,1969. Pp 347-8.