Protein nutrition and metabolism

The need for protein in the diet was demonstrated early in the nineteenth century, when it was shown that animals which were fed only on fats, carbohydrates and mineral salts were unable to maintain their body weight and showed severe wasting of muscle and other tissues. It was known that proteins contain nitrogen (mainly in the amino groups of their constituent amino acids; section 6.4.1), and methods of measuring total amounts of nitrogenous compounds in foods and excreta were soon developed.

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • explain what is meant by the terms nitrogen balance and dynamic equilibrium;
  • describe the processes involved in tissue protein catabolism;
  • explain the basis for current recommendations for protein intake and for essential and non-essential amino acids;
  • explain what is meant by protein nutritional value or quality, and why it is of little importance in most diets;
  • describe the processes involved in protein synthesis, outline the flow of information from DNA to RNA to protein, and explain the energy cost of protein synthesis;
  • describe and explain the pathways by which the amino nitrogen of amino acids is metabolized and explain the importance of transamination;
  • describe and explain the metabolism of ammonia, and the synthesis of urea;
  • describe the metabolic fates of the carbon skeletons of amino acids.
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