Health & Habits
How Much Protein Do We Really Need?
Posted May 24, 2022
Protein is often referred to as the “building blocks of life”, and for good reason. From our hair to our fingernails to our muscles, protein is the glue that holds each cell in our bodies together and makes up many major hormones and antibodies. That's why getting enough protein in our daily diets is important. New evidence suggests the exact amount we need depends on a host of factors: our diet, age, health, activity level and - for pregnant women - whether we’re eating for two. Here we outline how much protein we need to eat, how to calculate our needs and which people may need more.
Despite the fact that most people do in fact get enough protein, it still remains a popular macronutrient to eat. Simply put, if we eat a balanced diet, we’re likely getting the daily required amount without much difficulty. Current guidelines, established by the Institute of Medicine in 2002, recommend adults 19 years of age and older consume 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein. That's about 200 to 700 calories from protein for a 2,000-calorie diet. Another way to calculate this is by simply multiplying 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of our body weight. With a little math, this translates to 54 grams of protein for a 150-pound woman, or 65 grams for a 180-pound man.
For those of us who aren't sure whether we’re meeting our daily protein goals, food tracking apps such as Cronometer or MyFitnessPal exist to make it easy to record our regular diet for several days. It’s important to keep an eye on our protein intake to see if we’re hitting our daily number. It may also be helpful to utilize a calorie calculator to determine how many calories we need as individuals. Although knowing these numbers can be informative and help us reach our ultimate goals, adhering to them shouldn’t come at the cost of an unhealthy relationship to food or ruthless calorie counting.
Research on how much protein is the optimal amount to eat for good health is ongoing, and is far from settled. The value of high-protein diets for weight loss or cardiovascular health, for example, remains controversial. Before we start ramping up our daily protein intake, there are a few important things to consider. For one, it’s important not to translate the “get more protein” message to “eat more meat.” Beef, poultry, and pork (as well as milk, cheese, and eggs) can certainly provide high-quality protein, but so can many plant foods - including whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables. It’s also important to consider the protein “package” in what we’re eating - including the fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that invariably come along with protein. It can be helpful to seek out protein sources lower in saturated fat and processed carbohydrates and rich in many nutrients.
Eating vegan or vegetarian is becoming a more common dietary choice, and that inevitably leads to questions about getting enough nutrients - like protein - on a plant-based diet. The good news is that it's very easy to meet our daily protein requirements on such a diet. We’ve already covered in detail the topic of “complete” and “incomplete” sources in our diets, and it’s important to know that protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all indispensable (essential) amino acids when our caloric requirements are met. Below are common foods that many of us enjoy, with their protein content listed next to each:
In certain circumstances, some individuals require a bit more daily protein to meet their needs. Pregnant women are encouraged to raise their daily intake a minimum of 10 grams during the second and third trimesters. The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women eat a minimum of 1.1 grams/kilogram of body weight per day, or around 70 grams total. Those of us who are physically active (not sedentary) may require up to 2 grams/kilograms of body weight each day to maintain muscle mass. Working out, gardening, or simply going for a bike ride can all classify activities requiring a bit more protein. Lastly, gradual muscle loss for those over sixty-five can lead to decreased strength, frailty and loss of mobility. In a 2016 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, men and women aged 67 to 84 who ate the most protein and had the most even distribution across meals over two years had more muscle than those who fell short.
Keeping protein a priority then is a wise choice. As we stated above, protein can come from whole foods, but it can also be enjoyed as a supplement. An easy way to ensure our protein levels are accounted for each day is with a protein powder. Vedge Plant Protein delivers 25 grams of quality protein per serving - nearly half our recommended daily value - with a complete amino acid profile. This blend of vegan proteins is U.S.D.A. certified organic, and aids not only muscle protein synthesis but also an overall healthy body.
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