The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium
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Proteins

Meat is a very efficient deliverer of protein. Because the muscles of animals and humans share the same components, eating animal tissue is an easy way to get this necessary nutrient.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino acids determine the structure and function of proteins. Among other things, amino acids help build cells and repair tissue, form antibodies, and carry oxygen throughout the body.

There are twenty-two known amino acids, eight of which are called essential, meaning that our bodies can't manufacture them and must get them from the foods we eat. The table below shows the essential amino acids, the function of the proteins they're found in, and where you can get them in your diet.

 
 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

blood-sugar regulation

growth and repair
of muscle tissue

hemoglobin development

energy regulation

 

 
     
     
 

beef

dairy

eggs

fish

poultry

 
     
     
 

almonds

lentils

seeds

soy

wheat

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

blood-sugar regulation

growth and repair of muscle tissue

hormone production

wound healing

energy regulation

 
     
     
 

beef

dairy

eggs

fish

poultry

 
     
     
 

almonds

brown rice

lentils

seeds

soy

wheat

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

development and regulation of collagen, antibodies, hormones, and enzymes

promotes calcium absorption

growth and repair of muscle tissue

lowers serum triglycerides

 
     
     
 
beef

dairy

eggs

fish

 
     
     
 

lima

beans

potatoes

soy

yeast

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

may prevent arterial fat buildup

may act as an antioxidant

promotes collagen synthesis

 
     
     
 
beef

dairy

eggs

fish

 
     
     
 

beans

garlic

lentils

onions

soybeans

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

neurotransmitter function

increases blood levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine

 
     
     
 
dairy
 
     
     
 

almonds

avocados

peanuts

seeds

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

antibody production

 
     
     
 

beef

dairy

eggs

poultry

 
     
     
 

beans

nuts

seeds

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

precursor for serotonin (aids sleep and combats anxiety)

niacin production

 
     
     
 

beef

dairy

fish

poultry

 
     
     
 

barley

brown rice

peanuts

soybeans

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

growth and repair of muscle tissue

energy regulation

niacin production

 
     
     
 

beef

dairy

eggs

poultry

 
     
     
 

grains

mushrooms

nuts

soy

 
     

 

 
sulfur
 
nitrogen
 
carbon
 
hydrogen
 
oxygen
PROTEIN FUNCTION
ANIMAL SOURCES
PLANT SOURCES
     
 

growth

tissue repair

histamine development

 
     
     
 

pork

poultry

cheese

 
     
     
 

rice

wheat

 
     

Protein illustrations courtesy of San Diego Supercomputer Center/ Step Program

 

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