Protein quality assessment: impact of expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for optimal health

Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1576S-1581S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1576S.


Protein quality describes characteristics of a protein in relation to its ability to achieve defined metabolic actions. Traditionally, this has been discussed solely in the context of a protein's ability to provide specific patterns of amino acids to satisfy the demands for synthesis of protein as measured by animal growth or, in humans, nitrogen balance. As understanding of protein's actions expands beyond its role in maintaining body protein mass, the concept of protein quality must expand to incorporate these newly emerging actions of protein into the protein quality concept. New research reveals increasingly complex roles for protein and amino acids in regulation of body composition and bone health, gastrointestinal function and bacterial flora, glucose homeostasis, cell signaling, and satiety. The evidence available to date suggests that quality is important not only at the minimum Recommended Dietary Allowance level but also at higher intakes. Currently accepted methods for measuring protein quality do not consider the diverse roles of indispensable amino acids beyond the first limiting amino acid for growth or nitrogen balance. As research continues to evolve in assessing protein's role in optimal health at higher intakes, there is also need to continue to explore implications for protein quality assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism
  • Amino Acids, Essential / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids, Essential / metabolism
  • Biological Availability
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Proteins / standards*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Quality Control
  • Satiation / drug effects*
  • Satiation / physiology


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Proteins