Including protein-rich foods in your diet is essential to maintaining overall health and well-being. But how much protein do you need and what are the best sources of this essential macronutrient?
Why do we need protein?
Proteins are building blocks in the body. They make bones, cartilage, muscle, blood, skin, enzymes, hormones and vitamins. They are essential for growth and development, repair and construction of cells and tissues such as muscle, and play an important role in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and the immune response.
Proteins are made from amino acids. There are some amino acids that our bodies can make on their own. These are called non-essential amino acids. But there are nine amino acids that our bodies must obtain by eating foods that contain them. These are called essential amino acids, and they are essential for the normal functioning of the body.
What foods are high in protein?
We can get protein from plant or animal sources. Protein in our diet can come from meat, dairy products, nuts, some vegetables, and certain grains and beans.
Examples of high protein foods
Type of food
beans, peas, and lentils
nuts and seeds
walnuts, pumpkin seeds
Try to eat a variety of protein-rich foods to ensure you are meeting your daily protein needs as well as getting the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed for optimal health. Proteins that come from animal sources, such as meat, eggs, and milk, as well as soy and quinoa, are called complete proteins. This means they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and are the highest quality protein sources.
You can also get essential amino acids from plant-based foods. However, most plant-based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids, so they are called incomplete proteins. If you avoid animal proteins, the best way to ensure you’re eating a healthy mix of amino acids is to enjoy a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day.
Foods high in protein include:
Poor meat such as chicken, turkey, beef and pork are excellent sources of high-quality protein as well as important nutrients such as iron and zinc. To avoid unhealthy saturated fat, opt for lean or low-fat meat options, such as lean beef, pork loin, or skinless chicken breast.
Fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are not only rich in protein but also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. Look for seafood options that are lower in methylmercury, such as salmon, anchovies and trout.
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt that are rich in protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients. Greek yogurt is a great choice, as it is high in protein as well as nutrients such as calcium, vitamins and minerals. Dairy products can be high in saturated fat, so choose low-fat dairy options and limit the amount of cheese you eat.
Beans, peas, and lentils include kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, lima beans, fava beans, soybeans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas, split peas, lentils, and edamame. These plant-based foods are great sources of protein as well as fiber, folate, potassium, iron, and zinc.
Nuts and seasements include almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. They are not only rich in protein but also provide healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Nuts are high in fat and calories, so be aware of portion sizes.
Eggs they contain all the essential amino acids, making them a complete source of protein. Eggs are also a source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants.
when It is also a plant-based protein source of complete protein. A cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Quinoa is also a good source of minerals such as manganese, phosphorus and copper.
Soy products Tofu and tempeh are good sources of protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans. A quarter cup of tofu provides seven grams of protein.
How much protein should you eat daily?
For the average adult, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound, is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, or the amount you need to meet your basic nutritional needs and not to be sick For a person who weighs 75 kg (165 pounds), that is 60 grams of protein per day.
To determine your target daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, or use this online calculator.
It is important to keep in mind that your daily protein requirement is not a fixed number. For example, your protein needs will fluctuate depending on your level of physical activity, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Should I get my protein from animal or plant sources?
In order to get enough dietary protein in the healthiest way, nutritional guidelines have changed from specific daily amounts of protein, and towards the importance of eating healthier, protein-rich foods.
It’s important to consider the protein “package” when making protein choices because protein-containing foods include fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, sugar, sodium, additives and other components.
Although meat provides high-quality protein, some meats also provide unhealthy amounts of saturated fat and sodium. If you eat meat, it is important to choose leaner meat and poultry. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meats high in saturated fat include:
- fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
- ground beef (75% to 85% lean)
- Processed meats such as bologna, salami, sausages, hot dogs, bacon
- some poultry, for example duck.
A high protein diet consisting mostly of red or processed meat is a cause for concern. Research has consistently found that unprocessed and processed red meat is associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. One meta-analysis found that replacing red meat with healthy plant proteins reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.
For optimal health and nutrition, you should emphasize protein and plant-based protein from a variety of sources. The Mediterranean style of eating is one approach that emphasizes healthy sources of protein.
benefits of a higher protein diet
Although most Americans eat more than enough protein, some people could benefit from a higher protein intake.
To maintain or gain muscle mass
If you are over 50 years old, you should increase your protein intake to one gram per kilogram of your body weight just to maintain muscle mass, which decreases with age.
If you are trying to gain muscle mass, a higher protein diet can help support muscle repair and growth. When you exercise, muscle cells break down. Protein from food helps repair the damage, ultimately strengthening the muscles.
To lose weight
The value of high protein diets for weight loss remains controversial. However, one meta-analysis found that a high-protein diet may lead to weight loss and prevent weight regain after weight loss. The authors note the need for future studies that follow patients beyond one year for greater insight into this issue.
One study found that eating plant-based protein was associated with a lower chance of developing cognitive decline later in life. For every 5% of calories that came from plant protein instead of carbohydrates, the researchers observed a 26% lower risk of developing dementia in the study participants.
How much protein is too much?
The idea of an upper limit of protein intake is controversial. Some experts believe that the recommended amounts are too low. Others believe that we are consuming too much protein.
In general, the average person (not a bodybuilder or elite athlete) does not need high levels of protein and it should not exceed 2 grams per kilogram; or about 125 grams per day for a 140-pound person.
A major concern with consuming too much protein is overall nutritional imbalance. Eating too much protein can lead to insufficient intake of carbohydrates and fats. It is important to maintain a balanced diet that includes a balance of the three macronutrients for overall health.
In addition, if you increase your protein intake without increasing physical activity, you may take in too many calories without expending enough, which can lead to weight gain.
There is also some evidence that individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions may have problems eating a relatively high protein diet. A diet high in animal protein may increase the risk of kidney stones.