Protein Power! Build Your Body Back to Health Cell by Cell

By: Paula K. Burke, RD, LD


Here's hoping that this newsletter finds all in good spirits and better health. This time I would like to talk about why protein is so important in burn recovery. The first article gave some information on what makes up a nutrition assessment. The main point to walk away with is that the burn patient needs MORE. More Calories! More Fluids! and MORE PROTEIN.

Proteins are the structural units of all cells in the body. This includes muscle, bones, and all body organs, including the skin. In addition to providing structure, proteins also perform many actions within the body, for instance, enzymes that are used to digest food are proteins. Body metabolism cannot occur without enzymes. Hormones are also made up of proteins. Hormones regulate body processes such as sexual function, growth and development, and the sleep cycle. Proteins are also very important in the immune system. Antibodies that fight infection are actually proteins too!

All proteins are made up of strings of individual amino acids. What makes one protein different from another is just the order in which the individual amino acids occur in the string. Most of us have heard the terms 'non-essential amino acids' and 'essential amino acids'. The strings of amino acids that make up a protein contain both non-essential as well as essential amino acids. The difference is this: while the body can break down it's own protein (such as muscle) to provide non-essential amino acids that make up whatever protein the body is building, essential amino acids must come from outside the body in the food we eat. If this does not happen, the protein will not be completed. Think of it like as assembly line where the body is happily humming along stringing Cysteine to Glycine to Proline to Serine to.??? "Hey where's Arginine??" Until Arginine comes along, the assembly is SHUTDOWN.

The body is a dynamic being, which means that proteins are constantly being broken down and built up again. That is why it is so important to not only eat enough protein, but to make sure that enough of both essential and non-essential amino acids are in the protein foods we eat to make sure the body can, you guessed it … function optimally.

How Much is Enough?

In burn patients, there must be enough protein to provide for basic body structure and functions plus extra protein to promote early wound healing and support the immune system. Later on extra protein helps to maintain skin tissue strength to support successful skin grafts or reconstructive surgery. In children this can be up to 2-3 times the normal Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of protein for age. For most adolescents and adults this can be up to 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Which Foods Contain Protein?

Eggs, Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans and Legumes, Soy, Cheese, Milk, and Yogurt are all very good sources of protein. Eggs are considered the 'gold standard' of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids in the optimal amount. Protein that comes from animals contains all of the essential amino acids whereas proteins that come from beans, legumes and soy may not. Other foods that contain protein in far lesser amounts include rice and other grains as well as vegetables. Many proteins that come from beans, legumes and vegetables are more 'heart healthy' than the proteins from animals however, and so it is still very possible to be a vegetarian and still get the full amount of essential amino acids. It just takes a little more thought when it comes to planning your meals. Vegetarians should know that in order the get 100% of their essential amino acid requirements they need to eat 'complementary proteins' together. An example of two complementary proteins that together make up a 'whole' protein is beans and rice.

Now a Tasty and Fun Example!

Here is a good smoothie to try:

  Mix in a blender:

    1. 1 6-8 ounce container Regular Yogurt (Not Low Fat or Low Carbohydrate)

    2. 1/2 cup Whole Milk OR Calcium Fortified Soy Milk

    3. ½ whole banana OR ½ cup other Fruit

    4. ½ cup Ice Cream

    5. 2 Tablespoons Chocolate OR Caramel Syrup

    6. Blend to desired consistency

    7. Top with 1 Tablespoon Granola or Wheat Germ

This can provide up to 600 calories and up to 16 grams of protein.

It is also possible to prepare shakes and smoothies with many oral supplements that are readily available in many grocery and drug stores. Many of these supplements are also lactose free and contain additional vitamins and minerals as well. These supplements include Ensure®, Sustacal®, Resource®, Boost and Carnation Instant Breakfast®.

That's all for now, until next time.....