Protein: Are You Getting Enough?

Protein is an essential substance for your body. It helps develop and repair not only muscles, but also body tissues, such as hair, nails and bones. It is involved in making hormones including insulin, which regulates blood sugar and forming antibodies to fight infection, disease and illnesses. Getting enough protein is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But why do you need it, and how do you know if you are getting enough?

Kinsy McNamee, RD, ProMedica Wellness, says that eating protein as part of your diet is absolutely necessary.

“Protein is made up of a combination of several different amino acids,” she explains. “Your body can make some amino acids, but not all of them. The ones that your body can’t make are called essential amino acids. Animal protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese, are complete, high-quality proteins that contain all the essential amino acids your body needs.”

But what happens if you follow a vegan diet? McNamee reassures: “There are many good sources of protein that are not animal products. Dried beans, nuts, peas, seeds, and even grains such as oatmeal and quinoa are good options.”

Knowing How Much You Need

McNamee explains that, in general, a healthy adult needs about .8 — 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight each day, or 10 — 35% of a person’s daily calories should come from protein. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be 50 –175 grams of protein per day. This is quite a wide range for the recommended amount of protein intake, so seeking expert guidance about your individual needs is best.

“There are many things that factor into recommended protein intake. It depends on your activity level, weight, gender, age, and health condition,” McNamee says.

For instance, the more active you are and the more you use your muscles, the more protein you will need to restore those muscles. Eating more protein will not help you build muscle, but it will help you repair muscles and prevent exercise-induced fatigue and anemia (when you don’t have enough red blood cells to provide oxygen throughout your body). A sedentary, middle-aged woman may require close to 15% of her calories from protein, while a young, bodybuilding man may need 35%.

Health condition also plays a big part in your protein needs. When your body is stressed and trying to heal, such as after an injury, it burns through calories quickly. If you don’t increase your protein intake, your body will break down lean muscle mass to use for healing. In general, not eating enough protein can lead to weakness, fatigue, an increased risk of illness, and weight gain.

Moderate Amounts throughout the Day

Most Americans actually consume too much protein, especially in one sitting. Many people go all day without consuming much protein, and the first time they have a good protein source is at dinnertime. This may lead to overeating and consuming too much protein, which could lead to weight gain. Additionally, many animal sources of protein are rich in saturated fat and contribute to high LDL cholesterol levels, which are a risk factor for heart disease.

It is better to consume moderate amounts of protein throughout the day. This could include an egg, yogurt or peanut butter for breakfast; dried beans, nuts and cheese on your salad for lunch; and a 3 — 6-ounce serving of chicken or fish for dinner; sprinkled with a high-protein snack or two during the day. (High-protein snacks include a part-skim cheese stick, 4 — 6 ounces of low-fat cottage cheese or 2 tablespoons of hummus.)

For most people, consuming a diet that is moderately high in lean protein sources (such as low-fat dairy, nuts, dried beans, fish, and chicken) and low in carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates, such as those made from white flour) will help with weight loss and weight maintenance. Because protein is a source of energy, eating protein helps you feel full.

When you don’t eat enough protein, you may feel hungry again soon after eating. Second only to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the body and accounts for 20% of your body weight. There’s no doubt that protein plays an important role in your body – give your body the fuel it needs by eating moderate amounts of protein throughout your day.

Need some meal ideas to get you started? Try these recipes for Crockpot Fish Tacos or Turkey Pasta Fagioli.