When it comes to protein, there is so much information coming from various special interest groups, nutritional experts and straight up marketing that it is difficult to cut to the truth. As we know, all nutrients are not created equal, and protein is no exception. Proteins are far more complicated than the single number we see on the back of a nutritional label, and in order to benefit fully we need to look into what they are made of.
Breaking down ‘protein’
Saying that one is getting enough protein is like saying someone is getting enough vitamins. We know by now that there are a variety of different kinds of molecules that make up what are referred to as vitamins, various sources for these and various levels of what our body can actually use for each type.
Proteins have an incredibly diverse set of roles within the body from structure, to signaling, to acting as enzymes. The function of a protein can vary drastically according to it’s structure. The building blocks of proteins are amino acids, of which there are only 22.
Amino acids: the key to health
If you can think of proteins like words, amino acids are the letters which are identical, but used to make any word in the world. The 22 amino acids combine to form enzymes which govern every reaction responsible to maintaining proper function in your body. In order for any protein to be used by your body, they must first be broken down into amino acids. This is done in the stomach by an enzyme known as pepsin, which breaks down protein into free amino acids which then enter your bloodstream.
As you can see, the concept of protein has little bearing on what your body can actually use. For whatever reason, the powers that be thought that it was easier for the public to work with the concept of protein than the 22 amino acids when it came to public nutrition. For this reason, people can be getting ample protein while being deficient in specific acids, specifically in special diets. However, for anyone concerned with survival there are consequences with a limited variety of foods.
Essential and non-essential amino acids
Of the 22 amino acids, 9 are considered essential while the remaining 13 are considered non essential. The difference is what the body can produce. From generally available dietary materials, the non-essential amino acids can be generated within the body. For this reason, it is near impossible to be deficient in any of these outside of having genetic conditions. Essential amino acids, on the other hand, cannot be produced by the body and must be taken in through food.
Without the full spectrum of essential amino acids, a number of issues can crop up. Not unlike vitamin deficiency, missing these in the diet can lead to a variety of consequences related to the biological functions they govern. These are incredibly diverse and can range from anxiety to tissue breakdown. Stay tuned for a more in depth look into each of the essential amino acids and why they are an essential consideration for your survival foods.