Protein is essential for building and maintaining the various tissues and organs in your body. Some of the hormones and parts of your immune system are made out of protein as well.
How Much is Enough?
Your daily protein need depends on your age, body size, and gender. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests about 15 to 20 percent of your calories come from protein. Each gram of protein has 4 calories, so for a 2,000 calorie per day diet, that equals 75 to 100 grams of protein per day.
Another way to determine your protein need is to base it on your body weight. The recommended amount of protein for most adults is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 pounds (75kg) would need about 60 grams of protein per day.
Protein comes from both plant and animal sources and it doesn't really matter which you choose, unless you choose to be vegetarian or vegan or health or ethical reasons. Basically, a good protein source is one that's prepared in a way that doesn't add extra fat, sugar or too much sodium.
Meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products are all fine sources of protein. I've got some tips for cooking meat, poultry and fish, and the United States Department of Agriculture offers these suggestions:
- Choose low-fat meats and poultry to avoid saturated fats.
- Seafood is an excellent protein source because it's also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Don't add heavy creams, too much cheese or high calorie sauces.
- Omega eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids, plus the protein normally found in eggs.
- Avoid eating too much processed lunch meats, sausage and bacon because they're high in saturated fat and sodium.
I don't want to forget about the plant sources of protein. Legumes, nuts and seeds are all good sources of protein, but even vegetables and grains have small amounts. And just like I said for the animal sourced proteins, keep your plant proteins healthy by choosing recipes and cooking methods that preserve their nutritional goodness. Like this:
- Use tofu in place of meat in a stir-fry.
- Choose fresh or plain roasted nuts instead of flavored or sugar coated varieties.
- Add nuts or seeds to a big garden salad and serve it as a meal.
- Use dry beans like kidney, navy or black beans as your main protein source for a few meals.
- Try quinoa instead of rice or potatoes as a side dish.
This is where many protein eaters go wrong.
One serving of protein is equal to one egg, 3 to 5 ounces of meat, poultry or fish, 1 1/2 ounces of cheese or about 12 walnuts. So a serving of meat, poultry for fish is about the size of the palm of your hand, and a serving of cheese is the same size as 2 dice (regular 6-sided dice not 12 or 20 sided extra-large Dungeons and Dragons dice).
McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat." Accessed June 24, 2011. http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/Handouts/macronutrients.htm.
United States Department of Agriculture. "Food Intake Patterns." Accessed June 24, 2011. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/downloads/MyPyramid_Food_Intake_Patterns.pdf.
United States Department of Agriculture. "What Are Oils?" Accessed June 24, 2011. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/foodgroups/oils.html.
United States Department of Agriculture. "What Foods Are in the Protein Foods Group?" Accessed June 24, 2011. .