People are more enlightened today than perhaps at any other age in human history. Thanks to the internet, access to information is now democratized. We are living in the information age.
This pervasiveness of knowledge has impacted, and indeed continues to impact, every aspect of human existence. Today, growing access to information about nutrition, for instance, is helping to improve dietary habits. People are much more conscious of what they need to eat, subject, of course, to constraints around affordability and availability.
So, it is not surprising that nutrient-rich foods are an item, they are now almost a regular trending topic. Proteins have emerged as a sort of star and popular nutrient. The reason is not far-fetched as proteins are widely regarded as the building blocks of life. Proteins, however, appear to hold a mystery for many. People hear that they are essential for good health. But what exactly are proteins?
For one, proteins are one of the most abundant biomolecules on planet earth, found in living and non-living systems. At their core, experts say, proteins are chains of amino acids, linked together by chemical bonds. Each amino acid contains a central carbon atom, a hydrogen atom, a carboxyl group, and charged ions.
Proteins have lots of functions. They are the precursors of cells, enzymes, and receptors in the body. Proteins repair worn-out cells and tissues, they transport signals from one cell to the next, and they stimulate growth in humans.
Proteins have different types, classes, layers, and trillions of structures. In a broad sense, proteins are classified into three main groups, which are: fibrous, globular and membrane proteins.
Fibrous proteins, also known as structural proteins, are long, branched proteins that resemble fibrous roots of plants. These fibres provide tensile strength to cells and tissues in the body.
Globular proteins, also known as sphero-proteins, are round, globelike proteins that appear like bubbles in a biosystem. They provide attachments for cells to move freely in the body.
Membrane proteins, also known as integral proteins, are flat, segmented proteins that integrate themselves into different layers of a biological system. They provide protection of organs, muscles and tissues in the body.
Proteins are remarkable, in the sense that they have varieties of functions. Proteins are elastic and protective; they may serve in transport, storage of other nutrients, or membranes; or they may be toxins or viruses.
Viruses and bacteria are harmful proteins that can cause harm to any living system, and interfere with normal metabolic functions, hence they are pathogens. On the other hand, enzymes help the body to function optimally, by assisting cells and tissues to release healthy biochemicals to the body system.
Enzymatic proteins accelerate metabolic processes in the cells, including sweat production, stomach digestion, and conversion of food nutrients; e.g. digestive enzymes that break down food into simpler forms that your body can easily absorb.
Undoubtedly, proteins are truly the building blocks of life. Proteins store mineral ions such as calcium in your body. They are required for the formation of haemoglobin, the main structural component of red blood cells. Ferritin — a storage protein, regulates and guards against the adverse effects of excess iron in your body.
Ovalbumin and casein are storage proteins found in breast milk and eggs, respectively, that play a huge role in the embryonic development of babies. Other plant proteins like soybeans, quinoa and groundnuts are excellent protein sources that assist the body in the replacement of fatigued muscles and tissue.
Proteins are indispensable. And whatever else may be said about them – proteins are truly essential to good health.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and aspiring Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.