Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

Proteins are extraordinarily complex, and the blueprint for assembling all of the proteins you require is coded into your DNA. Protein molecules are primarily chains of amino acids, and the chains can include many thousands of amino acid molecules, making some proteins very large.

One of the most interesting points about proteins, however, is their secondary and tertiary structure (the specific sequence of different amino acids is a protein’s primary structure). Secondary structures are loops and turns in the amino acid chain, and a tertiary structure is sometimes called by the more descriptive word folding. The shape of protein molecules given by these complex geometric shapes equips the molecules for their particular functions.

Proteins are the jacks of all trades in human biology. Proteins are especially efficient in binding tightly to other molecules, often assisted by pocket-shaped depressions in the protein molecule created by its special folding pattern. The following describes some of the more important functions and roles of protein in your body:

  • Protein is necessary for growth, critical for children, teens, and pregnant women, but important to everyone in this regard for tissue repair.

  • Protein provides structure, both on a cellular level to help maintain cellular shape and on a whole body scale where protein makes up hair, nails, tendons, and ligaments.

  • Special motor proteins are responsible for the contraction of muscle cells. Muscles are the largest accumulation of proteins in your body, and remember that it’s specialized muscles that pump your blood and move air into and out of your lungs — important stuff, to say the least.

  • Proteins called enzymes speed up chemical reactions, and include the digestive enzyme pepsin, which works specifically to break down protein. The function of enzymes to facilitate and accelerate chemical reactions is crucial to life, and as many as 4,000 enzyme involved biochemical reactions have been identified.

  • Proteins serve as transporters and messengers. Antibody proteins, part of your immune system, capture and hold foreign bodies, including bacteria and viruses, and hemoglobin transports oxygen to cells around the body. Important protein hormones, like insulin, send signals to cells — insulin signals cells to allow glucose molecules to pass through the cell membrane, and it’s a pretty important function with diabetes.

That’s an impressive list of responsibilities, and gives a glimpse into why protein in your diet is so important. It’s necessary to have all the right raw materials available to keep all of your working proteins in production. A diabetes-focused diet typically recommends 20 percent of calories from protein — that’s about 75 grams per day for a 1,500-calories-per-day eating plan.

Researchers looking for the infectious agent in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of what’s more popularly known in cattle as Mad Cow disease, were puzzled by being unable to detect any of the genetic material common to disease causing agents like bacteria or virus, which allows them to replicate themselves.

Eventually, the cause of this group of diseases was determined to be a mis-folded protein now called a prion. This brain disease, which is 100 percent fatal, seems to progress not by self replication of the prion, but rather when the mis-folded prion protein influences other normal proteins to mis-fold as well.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, has managed her own diabetes for more than 40 years, and founded DiabetesEveryDay.com to share her insights into diabetes self-management. Alan Rubin, MD, is the author of several successful diabetes books, including Diabetes For Dummies and Diabetes Cookbook For Dummies.

This article can be found in the category: