How Much Protein Do We Need?

On Monday, I talked about what protein is, what it’s made up of, complete versus incomplete proteins, and complementary foods.  Today, we’re going to talk about the types of protein and how much protein we need.

Plant Protein

Different types of plant proteins

When most people think of protein, they think of meat and seafood.  While different kinds of meats and seafood are definitely sources of protein, there are more.  Other sources of protein include: eggs, beans, peas, processed soy products, nuts and seeds.  Even fruits and vegetables can contain small amounts of protein.

From an energy standpoint, protein provides 4 calories of energy from every gram that you eat.  One ounce equals 28.34 grams.  So, logic follows that one ounce of a protein (not including fat, if the source has some) is equal to approximately 113 calories.

According to MyPlate, the daily recommendations for protein are:

Daily recommendation*

Children 2-3 years old 2 ounce equivalents
4-8 years old 4 ounce equivalents
Girls 9-13 years old 5 ounce equivalents
14-18 years old 5 ounce equivalents
Boys 9-13 years old 5 ounce equivalents
14-18 years old 6 ½ ounce equivalents
Women 19-30 years old 5 ½ ounce equivalents
31-50 years old 5 ounce equivalents
51+ years old 5 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years old 6 ½ ounce equivalents
31-50 years old 6 ounce equivalents
51+ years old 5 ½ ounce equivalents

*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.

This chicken breast is probably 6 – 8 ounces

So, what’s an ounce equivalent?  According to MyPlate, the answer is… “In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the Protein Foods Group.”  To put this into perspective, the last time I went to a restaurant and ordered chicken, I was served a huge piece of chicken.  That piece of chicken was at least 5 ounces of meat.  (That’s 5 oz.  x 113 cal./oz.  = 565 calories.)  So, for a woman 31 years old or older, that would be all that she needed for the entire day.  Surprised?

Most people in first world countries, like the U.S., eat more than the recommended daily amount of protein.  When populations experience an increase in their income, usually the first thing that happens is that they increase their intake of protein.  Meat is considered a status symbol, in a sense.  A symbol of wealth.  Studies have repeatedly shown that people who eat more meat have an increased incidence of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and a broad range of cancers.  The worst culprits?  Red meat and processed meats (if you buy meat from a package instead of from the meat department, it’s processed).

To explain, red meat is considered bad for you because meats from cows, lamb and pigs have fats within the structure of the meat itself.  Even if you trim off every bit of fat from the outside of a steak, there is still fat marbling the inside of the steak.  Poultry, like chicken and turkey, have the fat surrounding the meat.  If you take the skin off of a chicken before you cook it, you’ve eliminated the fat.   Fats from meats are saturated fats.  As I’ll get to in the “fats” article in a couple of weeks, saturated fats are the type that are linked to cardiovascular disease.  Those are the “bad” fats.

Processed meats

Different types of processed meats

As for processed meats, pretty much everything about them is bad!  Most of the time, you really don’t know what kind of meat they really are!   They also include all kinds of chemicals and preservatives that just aren’t necessary or healthy.  Sodium nitrate is added to pretty much every processed meat.  Sodium nitrate makes meat look redder, so it makes food sell better.  However, sodium nitrate is linked to cancers.  If you’re going to eat processed meats, find one without sodium nitrate added to the food.

Another reason that the protein requirement is low is that when proteins are broken down, they break down into the individual amino acids that make them up.  These individual amino acids can then be reused to build another protein compound.  While some proteins are lost through the gastrointestinal tract, most are kept in the body and recycled.  The body realizes just how important protein is, so it tries to hold on to as much as possible.  The daily requirement for protein is based on maintaining a certain level of proteins in the body.  If you are sick or building muscle through exercise, you may need a higher intake level.  It’s not double, though.  It’s just a slightly higher level of intake.

The China StudyTo end today’s article, I wanted to talk about a book called “The China Study,” written by T. Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas M. Campbell II.  It is probably the most comprehensive nutrition study ever undertaken.  I could go on for pages about the results from this study, but the main message is to cut down on your intake of proteins from animal sources and to increase your protein intake from plant sources in order to prevent all kinds of illnesses and diseases, including cancer.  The book is a thorough look at their studies and results, and will definitely make you think twice about eating animal proteins.  I highly recommend you read this book.  If you want to read more, please check out the T. Colin Campbell Foundation website here.

As an announcement, please check back on Friday for a new section of this blog.  My fellow M.S. Nutrition student, Stacey, will be giving you a meatless, high protein recipe to try!

Until tomorrow, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!

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2 thoughts on “How Much Protein Do We Need?

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    Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

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