The food you eat is broken down into three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Protein is an important component for many reasons. Often, protein is called the building block of your body. Protein helps maintain your body’s muscle mass and is the main component of all your cells. Each gram of protein also provides your body with four calories of energy. Comparatively, a gram of carbohydrate provides four calories and a gram of fat provides nine calories, meaning protein is a good source of energy.
In addition, many people feel that eating protein-based foods helps them with satiety. In other words, it helps you stay full for longer periods of time because protein takes longer for your body to break down during the digestive process.
Where Do You Find Protein?
Good sources of protein include meats, eggs, dairy and fish. You can also find protein in other foods such as nuts, legumes, soy and vegetables. Additionally, there are supplements out there which can be used to ensure your protein needs are met.
How Much Do You Need?
For the general population, the Dietary Reference Intake is .36 grams per pound of body weight or .8 grams per kilogram. This comes to an average of about 46 grams per day of protein for women and 56 grams for men.
However, there are many other considerations that can impact this number. It’s best to work with a health professional if you have questions about your recommended protein intake. Some weight-loss plans or post-bariatric surgery patients have higher protein needs and goals, sometimes around 60-80 grams. Healing after surgery or increasing your physical activity can increase your needs. Conversely, some health conditions may limit protein intake such as in patients with kidney disease.
How Much Protein is in Your Food?
You can easily take a look at the foods you eat to see how much protein is in each serving by reading the label, but below is a breakdown of some of the most common sources. As you see, it can be easy to meet your needs.
- 3 oz. of chicken (palm size) – 21 grams
- 1 cup of milk – 8 grams
- 1/2 cup cottage cheese – 13 grams
- 1 serving of Greek yogurt – 15 grams
- 1 oz. cheese – 7 grams
- Veggie burger – 11-15 grams
- 1/2 cup vegetables – 3 grams
- 1 oz. nuts – 6 grams
- Protein supplement (store brand) – 20-30 grams
What about Supplements?
Although most people do not fall short on their protein needs, there are a variety of supplements available to add to your diet to ensure your needs are met. For the general population, a protein shake or bar can be a substitute for a meal when you are running late, a good afternoon snack, or something to have at work in case you miss lunch. People with specific health conditions may rely on a supplement to meet their daily intake. When choosing a protein supplement, look at the calories and protein, but don’t forget to also look at the fat and carbohydrates.
Powering up Your Diet
For many, monitoring your protein intake each day can be overwhelming and isn’t always necessary. Protein is a very important element of your diet. Instead of counting the number of grams you eat, start by making sure you include a protein source at each meal. For an extra bonus, add it in for a snack, too!