The Importance of Protein Digestibility

Protein is an inextricable component to the human diet. Without proteins, cells would be unable to function properly, our organs  and tissues would not be able to perform their duties, and our bodies would wither away. There are many sources of protein available to humans. We can find it in animal tissues and products like chicken, and milk. It resides in plants like beans and almonds, and can be isolated in the case of whey protein and the complete plant protein, LENTEINTM. When choosing which types of to fuel your body it is important that you choose proteins that are highly digestible, this way your body can use as much of the protein as possible. Highly-digestible proteins provide amino acids to our cells and allow muscles to build, organs to function, and overall our bodies to work.

How Are Proteins Digested?

To understand why highly-digestible proteins are are so important, we must first understand how the digestive system breaks down proteins. Proteins are created by complex chains of amino acids. Our body is made of proteins and can synthesise some of them. The ones it cannot are called essential amino acids. To get these amino acids, we must eat them. This is the reason why the search for a complete protein source is so important. Because animal proteins closely resemble our own, they are a quick and easy source of these essential amino acids. However, for many people eating animal proteins is not possible. LENTEINTM Complete is a complete source of protein that contains highly-digestible, essential amino acids, along with many other beneficial polyphenols and nutrients.

When proteins are digested, stomach acids, the liver, and intestines all work to break the complex proteins down into the simple amino acids that create them. There are many different types of proteins and they all break down in different ways and in different parts of the digestive tract. Many of the proteins we eat begin breaking down into amino acids in the stomach.  The acid of the stomach “unfolds” or denatures the proteins and begins the process of breaking them down. Along with acid, the stomach is full of enzymes that are designed to “carry” specific proteins safely to the small intestine. These are called peptides. Once the peptides make it to the small intestine the proteins are safe to be broken down further into individual amino acids. These individual amino acids are then able to be absorbed into the bloodstream, taken to other parts of the body and can be recombined as the body needs to repair muscle tissues and cell walls, create hormones and red blood cells, and to bolster the immune system.

What Causes a Protein to Become Indigestible?

It’s not difficult to find protein in a diet, however not all proteins are digestible. This is a problem because people may think that they are eating a diet rich in protein, however there are many processes that can affect the digestibility of proteins.  Processing of proteins can affect how they are broken apart, or not broken apart, by the stomach and intestines. Genetic modification has shown to change and impair the digestibility of plant proteins, even when the protein was not the cells targeted by genetic modification. Boiling, extruding, and using an alkaline or acid treatment can also render proteins indigestible. Creating a vicious cycle, some types of processing – particularly the use of pre-fermented grain – of animal feed can render those proteins essentially useless. When livestock eats feed made of this grain it can deplete the animal of nutrients it needs to build muscles and that depletion of amino acids is transferred to the final consumer. Instead of being broken down into singular amino acids and used to rebuild, and construct the body, they pass through our systems unchanged.

When choosing your preferred source of protein it is important to take into consideration whether or not the protein is digestible.

Measuring Protein Digestibility

While it is impossible to look at a slice of chicken or a bowl of beans and know if the protein is digestible, there is a way to determine the digestibility of proteins. It is a score called the DIAAS or the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score. This score is determined by how many amino acids are digested in the ileum, or small intestine rather than in the entire digestive tract. It is recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations as the recommended scoring system for measuring protein.Companies who understand the importance of protein digestibility will label their protein powders with these important numbers.