The phrase “you are what you eat” coined by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr in the 1920s has etymological roots dating as early as the 1800s in French and German sources. This idiom has endured through the 1960s hippie movement and into modern catch-phrasing, serving as an accurate illustration of the effects of dietary nutrition on our bodies. When we digest food, we absorb essential nutrients to supplement elements that our bodies cannot synthesize efficient levels of.
In the case of dietary proteins, this phrase can be taken literally, but preferably not in the way Hannibal Lector interpreted it. Proteins are the building blocks of every cell in every structure of the human body, serving as critical components in all vital bodily functions.
All proteins are coded by a unique chain of amino acids. With 21 different amino acids appearing in human genetics, and some proteins boasting a peptide chain sequence over 20 thousand amino acids long… the protein possibilities are incalculable. Different types of proteins serve different purposes in the body, consuming protein in excess may still result in deficiency of particular amino acids. To ensure optimal intake of these nutrients, protein should be consumed from a variety of natural sources.
See: Amino Acids for a breakdown of these specific protein components and where to find them.
Fibrous proteins that act as the building blocks of the body.
- Collagen– in muscles, cartilage, skin, tendons and bones.
- Keratin– in skin, hair, teeth and nails.
- Elasticin-– in blood vessels, tendons and ligaments.
Stores Iron and protects from adverse effects. Iron is a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, and in cytochromes responsible for cell metabolism.
Found in mammalian milk, stores Calcium, Phosphorous, carbohydrates and amino acids for embryonic development.
Found in eggs, stores amino acids for embryonic development. When metal ions reach toxic levels in the blood, ovalbumin can prevent absorption in the GI tract.
Produced in endocrine glands and transmitted through the bloodstream, humans secrete and circulate about 50 major hormones that act as chemical messengers between cells.
For a comprehensive breakdown of hormones in the human body, see: Hormone Table by Professor John W. Kimball, Harvard PhD.
Produced in the pancreas, regulates blood sugar and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Inefficient production or utilization of insulin can lead to various forms of diabetes.
Derived from the amino acid tyrosine, precursor of epinephrine / adrenaline. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and acts as a local chemical messenger in digestive, circulatory and immune systems.
Norepinephrine / Noradrenaline
Primarily functions as a neurotransmitter, produced continuously in brain-stem nuclei that respond to stress and panic. Small amounts of noradrenaline are also produced as a hormone derived from dopamine in adrenal glands associated with the kidneys. Increased noradrenaline activity acts on alpha receptors to constrict blood vessels, restrict passage in urinary and GI tracts, enlarge pupils, and excite hair follicles. Alpha receptors are located primarily in smooth vascular muscles where sensitivity to noradrenaline promotes insulin production in the pancreas, increases conversion of blood glucose into energy, and increases blood pressure.
Epinephrine / Adrenaline
Produced in the adrenal medulla as a hormone derived from noradrenaline, production only occurs under stress. Similar to noradrenaline, increased production of adrenaline acts on alpha receptors to promote insulin production, increase conversion of blood glucose into energy, and increase blood pressure. Adrenaline also acts on beta receptors to promote glucose production in the pancreas, increase hormonal production in the pituitary gland, and increase breakdown of fats. Adrenaline is commonly administered in cases of severe allergic reaction to prevent anaphylactic shock.
Produced in the pineal gland, regulates sleep and circadian rhythm.
Derived from the amino acid tryptophan, produced primarily in the GI tract to facilitate intestinal movements. Serotonin also acts as a neurotransmitter to regulate sleep, appetite, mood and cognitive functions. Ascorbic acid is a required component in serotonin, to promote production of this hormone pair proteins with foods rich in Vitamin C.
Estrogens and Androgens
Produced in the ovaries or testes, regulate reproductive functions.
Serve as catalysts for chemical reactions that speed up metabolic processes in all systems of the body. Essential minerals are required as co-factors in order for many of these reactions to occur. Coenzymes are a co-factors that separate from the protein component of the enzyme to serve as catalysts and transfer components between enzymes. Vitamins are often required in the formation of coenzymes.
Essential in metabolic processes, humans rely primarily on four categories of digestive enzymes to break down food into functional components and excrete waste:
Enzymes that convert complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Salivary amylase, activated by chewing, converts complex carbohydrate starches to the disaccharide sugar maltose. Pancreatic amylase, secreted into the small intestine, continues the digestion of carbohydrates into the simple sugar glucose.
Enzymes that convert proteins into amino acids. Pepsin, a proteolytic enzyme produced in the stomach, breaks proteins down to short-chain poly-peptides when activated by glutamic acid in the stomach. Trypsin, released from the pancreas into the small intestine, completes protein digestion by breaking proteins and poly-peptides down further to amino acid components.
Enzymes that convert dietary fats into glycerol and fatty acids. Gastric lipase, produced in small amounts in the stomach, aids in digestion of fats from butter. Pancreatic lipase, secreted into the small intestine, completes digestion of dietary fats by converting to fatty acids and glycerol.
Enzymes that convert nucleic acids into sugars, bases and phosphates. Produced in the pancreas, nucleases break DNA and RNA down into nucleotides for further digestion in the small intestine.
Other Digestive Enzyme Functions
- Maltase and Sucrase— produced in the small intestine, break down specific sugars into glucose.
- Lactase— produced in the small intestine, breaks down the specific milk sugar lactose into glucose and galactose.
- Renin— produced in the stomach, breaks down milk proteins by converting to peptides, to be fully digested by pepsin.
- Gelatinase— produced in the stomach, breaks down gelatin and collagen, to be fully digested by pepsin and trypsin.
Proteins produced in white blood cells, carry out core functions of the immune system.
Carry ions, molecules and macro-molecules across cell membranes for essential functions.
Facilitate selective diffusion across cell membranes in passive transport from areas of high-concentration to areas of low-concentration.
Bind with specific ions and molecules to facilitate active transport across the cell membrane from areas of high-concentration to areas of low-concentration.
Catalyze breakdown of ATP, releasing energy to facilitate active transport across cell membranes from areas of low-concentration to areas of high-concentration.
Receive and respond to chemical signals for regulation of substances entering and leaving cells, activation of enzymes, and stimulation of glands.
- Transmembrane– ion channel-linked (ionotropic) receptors, G protein-linked (metabotropic) hormone receptors, and enzyme-linked hormone receptors.
- Intracellular– found inside the cell, include cytoplasmic receptors and nuclear receptors.
Genetically designated molecules that bind to specific receptors are known as ligands.
Acetylcholine Receptors (AChRs) receive the ligand Acetylcholine (ACh) to stimulate skeletal muscle contractions. ACh was the first known neurotransmitter, confirmed by Nobel Prize winner Otto Leowi. Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) facilitates the breakdown of ACh to terminate transmissions. In the nervous system ACh regulates muscle contractions, sensory perceptions, REM sleep, attention, memory, motivation, arousal and reward. Choline, a B-complex vitamin, is an essential component in ACh.
Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptors (mAChRs) are metabotropic and can be excited by muscarine, found in the amanita-muscaria mushroom.
Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors (nAChRs) are ionotropic receptors that can be excited by nicotine, found in tobacco. When activated, these ligand-gated ion channels are permeable to the mineral ions Sodium, Potassium and Calcium. Stimulation of nAChRs in the adrenal medulla by ACh ligands triggers secretion of the hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline. The neuro-muscular autoimmune condition known as Myasthenia Gravis is characterized by degradation of nAChRs by autoantibodies (IgG1 or IgG3).
Motor proteins regulate muscle, cardiac, and cellular movements.
Found in cell cytoskeletons, responsible for intracellular motor functions like cell division.
Motor protein that catalyzes breakdown of ATP to generate movement, works with actin to facilitate muscle contractions.
Optimal Food Sources
- Wild Boar
- Cottage Cheese
- Greek Yogurt
- Goat Cheese
- White/Navy Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Black Beans
- Lima Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Green Beans.
- Beet Greens
- Bok Choy
- Soybean Sprouts
- Lentil Sprouts
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bean Sprouts
- Green Gram / Mung
- Bengal Gram Sprouts
- Broccoli Sprouts
- Radish Sprouts
- Clover Sprouts
Nuts and Seeds
- Squash Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Sea Vegetables
- Grape Leaves
- Wasabi Root