All proteins contain hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon. They are made up of smaller units called amino acids. The amino acids are linked together into long chains called polypeptides. Most polypeptides are bent into complex, 3-dimensional shapes. A protein consists of 2 or more polypeptide chains. 22 amino acids are assembled into thousands of different proteins required by the human body. Some of these amino acids are called essential amino acids because the body cannot produce them on its own and they must be consumed through the diet. Others are called nonessential amino acids because they are manufactured in the body. Adults and children require 9 essential amino acids. Certain proteins have a higher biological grade which means they are higher quality and more complete. Proteins from plant origins such as legumes, nuts, grains, and seeds have a lower biological grade than milk protein for example. Thus, milk protein will be used better by the body. Generally, meats and dairy products have high biological grades. Proteins are important in biosynthetic and bioenergetic reactions related to body growth, maintenance and repair, and energy production. Because energy requirements take priority over growth of new tissue, proteins can be used as an energy source if the diet is lacking in carbohydrates and/or fats. Skeletal muscle serves as a reservoir for protein when the diet is extremely lacking. When you are taking in more nitrogen then you expend, you are in a state of positive nitrogen balance. This indicates an increased state of protein anabolism, which means full tissue growth and repair. This occurs when the diet has sufficient essential amino acids. When the diet is lacking in essentials, the body goes into a state of negative nitrogen balance, which means sub-par protein anabolism (growth and repair). Proteins begin to be digested in the mouth during mastication (chewing) and are further broken down in the stomach by hydrochloric acid and pepsin. Nothing from proteins are absorbed until they reach the intestines after that have been broken down even more by digestive enzymes. 95-97% of all amino acids are absorbed in the small intestine with very little being found in the large intestine.
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