Are You Meeting Your Protein Needs?

July 20, 2015

Are you under or over doing it with your protein?

Protein is one of the most popular front of package claims these days, from drinks to snacks to prepared food meals, protein is top of mind. Here is a refresher on what protein actually is and why your body needs it, so you are better informed when you shop.

Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. They are constantly being broken down and replaced. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are later used for tissue repair and maintenance in the body. There are twenty different amino acids that join together to make the different proteins; some are made in the body, others are not. The amino acids that cannot be made by the body are called essential amino acids, thus it is essential that our diet provide these.

Dietary protein sources are evaluated according to how many essential amino acids they provide. Complete proteins are those that provide all of the essential amino acids. Animal-based foods for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources. Incomplete proteins on the other hand, are those that are low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids; an example includes tofu and brown rice.

Although some protein is needed for muscle growth, most people overemphasize protein needs. The average American eats about three times the amount of protein he or she actually needs. Here are some guidelines you can use to determine how much protein you should strive to consume and the best foods for you:

Look at your overall food intake: next time you are at the grocery store start by noting the variety of foods, or lack thereof, in your cart. Eating a variety of foods provides a greater opportunity to take in nutrients, including protein, which your body needs to stay healthy.

How much do you need? In general, it's recommended that 10–35% of your daily calories come from protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) vary by different age groups. Generally women aged 14+ require at least 46 grams and men 14+ require at least 52 grams a day. Some dietary advice calls for each meal to contain at least 20 grams of protein and snacks to be close to that as well. This would give an adult a minimum of 70 grams per day.

How to shop: Foods that are rich in protein include lean meats, poultry and fish as well as dairy products, legumes, tofu, nuts and nut-butter. Cereals, breads, beans and vegetables are also good sources of protein. Protein powders like whey, brown rice, hemp, and pea are also great sources.

If you have any specific health conditions that may alter your daily nutritional requirements, would like more information about RDA’s, or need to determine your total daily caloric intake, contact your health care provider, or speak to your store’s dietitian.