In This Chapter
^ Determining what protein is ^ Finding the proteins in your body ^ Getting the best quality protein from food ^ Gauging how much protein you need
#«/rotein is an essential nutrient whose name comes from the Greek word
* protos, which means "first." To visualize a molecule of protein, close your eyes and see a very long chain, rather like a chain of sausage links. The links in the chains are amino acids, commonly known as the building blocks of protein. In addition to carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, amino acids contain a nitrogen (amino) group. The amino group is essential for synthesizing (assembling) specialized proteins in your body.
In this chapter, you can find out more — maybe even more than you ever wanted to know — about this molecule, how your body uses the proteins you take in as food, and how the body makes some special proteins you need for a healthy life.
Looking Inside and Out: Where Your Body Puts Protein
The human body is chock-full of proteins. Proteins are present in the outer and inner membranes of every living cell. Here's where else protein makes an appearance:
1 Your hair, your nails, and the outer layers of your skin are made of the protein keratin. Keratin is a scleroprotein, or a protein resistant to digestive enzymes. So if you bite your nails, you can't digest them.
1 Muscle tissue contains myosin, actin, myoglobin, and a number of other proteins.
^ Bone has plenty of protein. The outer part of bone is hardened with minerals such as calcium, but the basic, rubbery inner structure is protein; and bone marrow, the soft material inside the bone, also contains protein.
^ Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. Plasma, the clear fluid in blood, contains fat and protein particles known as lipoproteins, which ferry cholesterol around and out of the body.
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