Although protein is a necessary macronutrient, not all protein-rich foods are made equal, and you may not require as much as you might believe. Learn the fundamentals of protein and how to incorporate wholesome protein meals into your diet.
What Is Protein?
Protein makes up the majority of the body’s organs, tissues, and body parts, including muscle, bone, skin, and hair. It contributes to the production of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood, and enzymes, which drive numerous chemical reactions. At least 10,000 different proteins make up you, and they also keep you that way.
Protein is made up of more than twenty basic building units known as amino acids. Our bodies produce amino acids in two different ways since we cannot store them: either from scratch or by altering existing ones. The essential amino acids, also known as histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, must be obtained from diet.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Adults should consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight each day, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
- For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.
- For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.
The National Academy of Medicine also establishes a broad range for the daily allowance of appropriate protein—anywhere between 10% and 35% of calories. Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of reliable information regarding the optimum protein intake or the number of calories that should come from protein in the diet. A Harvard study involving more than 130,000 men and women who were followed for up to 32 years found no correlation between the percentage of calories from total protein intake and overall mortality or specific causes of death. However, the protein’s source was crucial.
It’s important to remember that food instability causes millions of people around the world, particularly young children, to consume inadequate amounts of protein. Malnutrition and protein deficiency have a variety of serious consequences, including stunted growth, loss of muscle mass, weakened immune systems, heart and respiratory system weakness, and even death.
However, due to the accessibility of plant- and animal-based meals rich in protein, it is uncommon for healthy individuals in the United States and the majority of other developed nations to experience a shortfall. In reality, many Americans get more protein than they need, especially from animal-based diets.
Everything Relies on the Protein “Package”
When we consume protein-rich foods, we also consume all of the other nutrients they contain, such as fiber, salt, and various types of lipids. This protein “package” is what is most likely to have an impact on health.
- A 4-ounce broiled sirloin steak is a great source of protein—about 33 grams worth. But it also delivers about 5 grams of saturated fat.
- A 4-ounce ham steak with 22 grams of protein has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat, but it’s loaded with 1,500 milligrams worth of sodium.
- 4 ounces of grilled sockeye salmon has about 30 grams of protein, naturally low in sodium, and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that’s especially good for the heart.
- A cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has virtually no saturated fat or sodium.
What about protein powders?
There are numerous sources of powdered protein, including eggs, milk (such as casein and whey), and plants (e.g., soybeans, peas, hemp). Some protein powders contain a variety of proteins; peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and alfalfa are a few vegan alternatives. Protein powders, like other dietary supplements, are not subject to safety regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They may frequently include non-protein additives like as thickeners, added sugars, non-caloric sweeteners, vitamins, and minerals. It’s crucial to study the nutrition and ingredient labels before deciding whether to eat protein powder because certain brands may have unanticipated additives as well as significant amounts of extra sugar and calories.
Research on Protein and Health
The available research suggests that rather than protein quantity, what matters more for human health is the source of the protein (or the protein “package”). The evidence-based conclusion is that consuming healthy protein sources like beans, almonds, fish, or chicken instead of red meat and processed meat can reduce the risk of various diseases and early death. You can examine the research on each disease in the tabs below.