What exactly are proteins?
Proteins are large organic molecules made up of long chains of chemical compounds called amino acids.
Amino acids can be combined in any order and repeated in any form. If we take into account that an average protein is made up of between 100 and 200 amino acids, the resulting number of possible combinations is enormous.
On the other hand, human proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, of which 8 are essential. Our organism cannot form these by itself, so it is necessary to obtain them daily through food.
How do they work?
Each animal or vegetable species is formed by its own type of proteins, incompatible with those of other species.
This translates into an inability for our organism to directly assimilate the proteins it obtains from food.
To be able to absorb and use them, it is necessary that during the digestion, and of the hand of diverse enzymes and gastric juices, it decomposes them previously in its simplest components, the amino acids.
Once this is done, these basic elements pass into the blood and are distributed through the tissues. This is where they combine with other amino acids from proteins that have been degraded and form new ones, of one type or another according to the needs of the moment.
What are they for?
Without them, our muscles would not exist. However, this is only one of the many important tasks they perform.
If we bear in mind that the term protein comes from the Greek word proteins, which means primary, the oldest, the first, we can already get an idea of the great relevance they have for our organism.
It could be said that they serve for almost everything since they are present in most of the vital functions of the body: they are necessary for the formation and repair of tissues.
In addition to muscles, they provide the materials that make up bones, glands, internal organs, as well as skin, hair, and nails.
Muscle contraction, immune protection, and transmission of nerve impulses depend on them. They delay the aging of the body and can also act as a source of energy when carbohydrates and fats are scarce.
Where do we find proteins?
Being a constituent element of every living cell, they are found in all tissues and almost all foods.
What varies, however, is its concentration and nature. According to this, we can establish two major sources of protein: those of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products) and those of vegetable origin (cereals, pulses, and nuts).
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Are they all the same?
No, there are those of higher and lower quality. It depends on whether or not the protein contains the essential amino acids and in what proportion.
It is enough that only one amino acid is missing for the quality to plummet since for your body to be able to form its proteins it must have each and every one of the essential components.
In addition, the increase of one amino acid does not compensate for the absence of another. For this reason, and with some exceptions such as soya, animal proteins are considered to be of better quality than those of vegetable origin.
In addition to the quality of the protein, it must be taken into account if it can be used by your body. Not all proteins that we get through food are digested in the same way.
For example, soya, despite having a lower biological value than other foods of animal origin, has a higher net protein contribution because our digestive system assimilates its proteins better.