The Natural Way

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

What do a big, thick porterhouse steak and soybean curd have in common? Protein, which holds an essential role in our good health. Protein maintains the immune system, nervous system, components of our blood, supplies energy and is essential to thinking as well as memory.

The usual amount of protein needed each day for an average, healthy person is about one gram of protein (.03 oz.) per 2.2 pounds (35.2 oz.) of body weight. If you are recovering from sickness or injury, more protein may be needed, though this would be very different depending upon the illness. Lower amounts would be considered for kidney failure, for instance. If you exercise to build muscle mass, your protein requirements increase, so supplementing with an amino acid blend is very useful.

When protein is consumed and digested, it is split into amino acids. There are eight that we know of, essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body and must be supplied by food. These are lysine, valine, leucine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine and histodine. Both essential (from food) and non-essential (synthesized by our bodies) must be present for good health.

People who choose not to eat animal or milk protein should be well-studied in the different forms of plant protein, and able to mix the balance of food to ensure that the proper amount of amino acids are eaten. A few of the most concentrated forms of complete protein include soy (though health concerns are rising around the use of soy), cottonseed flour, wheat germ, powdered skim milk, egg whites and brewer's yeast.

If not being used for a specific purpose, amino acids have to ingested in a balanced form (all essential amino acids must be present at the same time) to be usable in the body. The amino acids found in meat, milk and egg are similar to the composition of human tissue and supply the most complete and balanced form. Fruit, veggies, grains and nuts also supply protein, but most do not contain a complete amino acid balance and must be intermixed with other foods to assure all the essential amino acids are present.

Amino acids can be taken individually for certain benefits, more about that later, but for now, go out and grill that big, thick slab of soybean curd, slather it with onions and shiitake mushrooms - enjoy.

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