Proteins: The Building Blocks of Life

Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are crucial for building, maintaining, and repairing the body’s tissues, in addition to being the major components of our immune system and hormones. The basic structure of a protein is a chain of amino acids.

Amino acids make up the structure of a protein. Every protein is comprised of a variety of amino acids linked together in a peptide bond and these links are what makes proteins differ. For example, steak and chicken will have entirely different amino acid combinations and structures. There are two types of amino acids, essential and non- essential. An essential amino acid must be consumed in one’s diet and cannot be synthesized by the body. On the other hand, a non-essential amino acid can be synthesized by the body.

Food provides both essential and non-essential amino acids, and proteins are found in a variety of foods. Fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, meat and other foods from animal sources all contain complete proteins, meaning they contain the eight essential amino acids. It is important, especially if you are exercising frequently, to consume a diet that contains enough protein to replenish these amino acids. By maintaining proteins in your diet, you will help your body repair cells and make new ones.

If you are a vegetarian it is extremely important that you are eating a variety of plant proteins to ensure that you get enough essential amino acids. Examples of plant proteins include soy, nuts, legumes, vegetables, whole grains, and seeds.

Essential Amino Acids Non-Essential Amino Acids
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glutamin Acid
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine
Meat Protein Recommendations
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Chicken with skin removed
  • Lean cuts of beef and pork (round, top sirloin, tenderloin)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
Plant Protein Recommendations
  • Beans (Black Beans, Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans)
  • Nuts and Seeds (Almonds, Boiled Peanuts, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Mixed Nuts)
  • Soy Protein (Tofu, Tempeh) Low fat Dairy products