Dietary protein intake and human health
A protein consists of amino acids (AA) linked by peptide bonds. Dietary protein is hydrolyzed by proteases and peptidases to generate AA, dipeptides, and tripeptides in the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract. These digestion products are utilized by bacteria in the small intestine or absorbed into enterocytes. AA that are not degraded by the small intestine enter the portal vein for protein synthesis in skeletal muscle and other tissues. AA are also used for cell-specific production of low-molecular-weight metabolites with enormous physiological importance. Thus, protein undernutrition results in stunting, anemia, physical weakness, edema, vascular dysfunction, and impaired immunity. Based on short-term nitrogen balance studies, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for a healthy adult with minimal physical activity is currently 0.8 g protein per kg body weight (BW) per day. To meet the functional needs such as promoting skeletal-muscle protein accretion and physical strength, dietary intake of 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 g protein per kg BW per day is recommended for individuals with minimal, moderate, and intense physical activity, respectively. Long-term consumption of protein at 2 g per kg BW per day is safe for healthy adults, and the tolerable upper limit is 3.5 g per kg BW per day for well-adapted subjects. Chronic high protein intake (>2 g per kg BW per day for adults) may result in digestive, renal, and vascular abnormalities and should be avoided. The quantity and quality of protein are the determinants of its nutritional values. Therefore, adequate consumption of high-quality proteins from animal products (e.g., lean meat and milk) is essential for optimal growth, development, and health of humans.