To kick off this Lab-to-Life blog series let’s focus on the fundamentals of proteins – which are the cornerstone of health. Many of us overlook how vital an adequate daily supply of protein is, (not only athletes or fitness fans, but kids, adults, senior, those focused on weight loss etc.), consequently many of us are deficient in quality protein in our diets. Proteins play an important role in our structural and functional health: mood, sleep, immune system, cellular inflammation (or ageing at the cellular level), energy, hormone function. Too little quality protein in the diet at any age, and signs of deficiency, which are not always easy to identify as such, can show up.
This first blog post in our forthcoming series on protein is for those who cherish their health and vitality.
This series will be based on an interview with our Chief Science Officer Dr Jean-Francois Lesgards. Jean Francois holds a Post Doctorate in Chemistry/Biochemistry and has 20 years of fundamental and clinical research in nutrition/ food, health and inflammatory diseases. Interview by Sheila Partrat.
S.P.: “Jean-Francois – let’s start at the top. What are proteins and what do they do for me?
Proteins are one of the three macro-nutrients we eat daily that provide calories or energy: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It’s not that carbs or fats are less important, but out of the three, proteins are our building blocks. They are large biomolecules that are vital for our organism: both for our body structure (skin, hair, cartilage, muscles, tendons, ligaments etc.) and what they do inside (enzymes, hormones, antibodies). They hold our body together and protect the body chemistry.
Think of protein like sequences building Lego blocks, called amino acids, all necessary every day. Our body can make most of the 20 different amino acids, but 8 of these called Essential Amino Acids, we can only get from food. What do proteins do for me?
- The primary function is for growth, body repair, production of hormones and enzymes, which help to control different body functions
- They keep us well: antibodies are proteins that bind to foreign particles, such as viruses and bacteria, to help protect the body.
- They are chemists: enzyme proteins carry out almost all of the thousands of chemical reactions that take place in cells.
- They communicate: messenger proteins such as some types of hormones transmit signals to coordinate biological processes between different cells, tissues, and organs.
- They provide structure and support for cells. On a larger scale, they also allow the body to move.
- The secondary function is an alternate energy source if we don’t consume enough carbs and fats.
And we thought protein was only for building muscles☺!!!!
S.P.: “How much do we need on a daily basis and how can we determine how much protein we are getting?
J.F: Each person is unique. Body weight, level of activity, gender and age will influence requirements. National guidelines may vary, however our bodies will generally use at least 1 gram per kg. of body weight per day. The elderly or very active individuals can go up to 1.5 grams/kg of body weight. If there are any known kidney issues, then reduce the intake. To be practical, an egg has about 6 grams of protein while a 100-gram piece of chicken has about 25 grams. To determine how much protein you are getting, try keeping a food journal and write down what you’re eating daily, then add up the grams per macronutrient. Go to the website www.nutritiondata.com if you’re not fully familiar with the amount of protein, carbs and fats in the food you’ve consumed.
S.P.: “What happens when we don’t get enough protein?
JF: We can store fats and carbohydrates which are used for energy in the form of fat or glycogen (for glucose) but we can’t store amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. That’s why we need to replenish our protein supply daily. If our body doesn’t get enough protein to replenish what it needs, it will take proteins from our bones and muscle mass, which is far from optimal!
Protein deficiency can manifest itself in many ways that can be hard to specifically identify as protein deficiency such as: low immunity, slow wound healing, blood sugar fluctuation, low energy and fatigue, poor concentration/brain fog, poor detoxification, mood swings and poor sleep. This deserves a blog post in itself! Watch for more details on this in the next Lab2Life blog post.
S.P.: Thanks Jean Francois. Next time on Lab-to-life Blog, Protein and health series: watch for details on
- How do distinguish the quality of a proteins, how do plant vs animal proteins differ and why we should care?
- A deeper look into the signs of protein deficiency as well as what happens in our bodies when we don’t get enough.