Protein is an important part of every cell in the body and is used to build and repair tissues. Your body also uses protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. The proteins in our bodies are constantly being broken down for use and replaced by the protein in the food we eat, which is digested into amino acids and used to replace the body-building proteins we have used.
Before you run to the refrigerator to grab a protein drink, relax! We need less protein than you may think!
The Mayo Clinic advises that 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories should be in the form of protein. Protein has 4 calories a gram. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 200 to 700 calories a day, or about 50 to 175 grams a day. They also emphasize plant sources of protein, such as grains, beans, lentils, soy products and unsalted nuts, plus the inclusion of seafood twice a week. Meat, poultry and dairy products should be lean or low fat.
If you're looking for a simple guide to start, the Recommended Daily Dietary Allowance for protein is:
- Children ages 1 – 3 13 grams
- Children ages 4 – 8 19 grams
- Children ages 9 – 13 34 grams
- Girls ages 14 – 18 46 grams
- Boys ages 14 – 18 52 grams
- Women ages 19 – 70+ 46 grams
- Men ages 19 – 70+ 56 grams
Protein per serving can be found on labels, for those of us who eat fresh food, it may take a bit more work to find out how much protein we're eating! A few good examples are:
- 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
- A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein3.5 ounces of chicken breast has about 30 grams protein
- Most 3 .5-ounce fish fillets or steaks have about 22 grams of protein 6 grams per ounce
- 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein
- An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein
Animal protein and vegetable protein are considered to have the same effects on health. However, while a 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak appears to be a great source of protein - about 38 grams - it also contains 44 grams of fat, of which 16 are saturated! On the other hand, 6 ounces of salmon give you 34 grams of protein with 18 grams of fat, of which only 4 are saturated, while a cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein with under 1 gram of fat!
Most people eat more protein than they need without harmful effects, but protein does contribute to calorie intake! Additionally, a lower-protein diet may be recommended for people with certain kidney diseases to help prevent impairment of kidney functions.
So when looking for protein-rich foods, watch what comes along with the protein.
Vegetable sources such as beans, nuts, and whole grains are excellent choices and include healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals! The healthiest animal protein sources are fish and poultry. If you're an eater of red meat, choose the leanest cuts and moderate portion sizes.