Functions of Proteins

Proteins are found in nearly every body part including muscles, organs, bones, skin, hair and nails. They provide structural support to the body. For example, collagen is a protein that forms the foundation for bones and teeth, and keratin is a protein found abundantly in hair, nails, and the outer layer of skin. Proteins also help preserve lean muscle tissue that keeps your metabolism revved up, and they support the many important functions of muscles whether they’re being used for strenuous exercise or to pump the heat muscle efficiently.

During periods of growth (such as an infancy, childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy), proteins are used by the body to create new tissues. And when our body cells wear down, proteins help rebuild and repair them to help the body function optimally.

Specific types of proteins also help the body work; here are a few examples:

• Enzymes speed up chemical reactions
• Antibodies protect the body from invaders such as bacteria that can cause infection or illness.
• Hemoglobin helps transport oxygen around the body.

Many hormones are also proteins. Hormones send important messages from one part of the body to another. For example, insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas after it detects high levels of glucose (a simple sugar) in the blood. Secreting insulin allows the pancreas to better control blood sugar levels. In insulin-resistance or type or type 2 diabetes, the body can’t make any or enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it does make to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

Several proteins are also responsible for carrying fats, vitamins, minerals, and other substances through the blood to various parts of the body.

Although it’s critical to consume adequate amounts of dietary protein each day, we need fewer total calories from protein than we do from carbohydrates and fats – the two other calorie-containing nutrients.

Unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein cannot be stored in the body; that’s why it’s important to include protein-rich foods in your diet each day. It’s found in a variety of foods from animal and plant sources, including meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, legumes (beans and peas), soy foods like tofu, nuts, and seeds.

Dietary protein is relatively low in calories. Each gram contains 4 calories, the same amount in 1 gram of carbohydrate. However, studies suggest that protein-rich foods seem to be more satiating or satisfying than foods high in carbohydrates or fats. Plant sources of protein are especially filling because of their high fiber and water content. Consuming many of these foods over time can lower your overall calorie intake and help you achieve or maintain a healthier body weight.

Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions.
Antibodies are proteins found in the blood that protect the body form being invaded by bacteria or viruses that can cause illness or infection.
Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells; it carries oxygen around the body and brings carbon dioxide to the lungs.
Hormones are proteins that send important messages from one part of the body to another.

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