Protein…just how important is it?

We’ve all heard the term and have some notion of it’s importance in our diet. After water, protein is the most abundant substance in your body. It has been referred to as the “building block of life.” But really, what is protein, how important is protein, and lastly, how do I know if I am getting enough protein?


What is protein?

Protein is considered one of the 3 macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates).  Proteins are large, complex molecules chemically composed of amino acids. In fact, proteins are made up of hundreds of thousands of smaller units called amino acids which are attached to one another in long chains.


Your body needs exactly 20 different types of amino acids in order to function, but your body is able to produce only 11 of them. It cannot manufacturer the other 9, which are valine, threonine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, methionine, lysine, histidine, isoleucine, and leucine. These 9 are called essential amino acids because it’s essential for good health that you get them from your food.


How important are proteins?

This is not a complete list, but some functions of protein include:

  • They constructs and repairs body tissues (muscles, cartilage, bones, organs, and connective tissue. It’s found in every cell of your body.
  • They produces the enzymes that digest food
  • They is found in antibodies that keep you healthy by resisting diseases
  • They regulates body processes such as water balancing, oxygen and energy transportation, and contracting muscles
  • Messenger proteins (such as some types of hormones) transmit signals to coordinate biological processes
  • They bind and carry atoms and small molecules within cells and throughout the body
  • Provides a feeling of satiation or fullness
  • Can aid in weight loss by helping to burn calories


Eating too little protein can result in these symptoms:

  • Muscle, bone and joint pain
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Trouble building muscle mass
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Poor concentration and trouble learning
  • Moodiness and mood swings
  • Slow wound healing
  • A sluggish metabolism
  • Low immunity
  • Blood sugar changes that can lead to diabetes


Am I getting enough protein?

The typical American diet is very high in carbohydrates. Yes, you need carbs too, but the key is the proper proportions. Most people would benefit from increasing the amount of high quality protein in their diets.


As far as how much protein to consume on a daily basis, this is difficult to give one answer for everyone.  Body weight, gender, age, and level of activity are all factors that come into play. If you are an athlete, you will need to get much more protein than someone who works a desk job.


The best option for the serious patient is to consult a doctor who is an expert in nutrition and get lab work done. But a general rule is to take your body weight and multiply that number by .5. The result is the amount in grams of protein you should get each day. This will most likely be more than you are used to, but again, our culture is used to a high carb diet. Take a trip to your local mall and count the number of overweight people. We clearly aren’t eating very well! Get educated about nutrition and make permanent changes to your diet. Your body will love you for it!

To learn more about Mandala Integrative Medicine visit our website: or call our office for an appointment: 563.355.7411

Dr. Shah, MD