New Research Suggests We Need MORE Protein. Are You Getting Enough?
It seems to me that most Americans consume more than enough protein, while worrying that we are not getting enough. This is not so much the case for vegetarians (though most do quite well in the protein area) and vegans (who may need to serve up extra hummus, edamame, lentils, and seeds) though certainly for those consuming animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Not long ago most dietitians would point out that in actuality, according to the official RDA, we're all getting more than enough protein, and they would be right. However, as new studies are suggesting, our bodies may function even better with MORE!
The latest research indicates that by consuming more protein than is recommended by our respective Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), we may actually be able to help treat or prevent diseases such as obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and sarcopenia (declining muscle mass).
Sounds like a great reason to fill your plate with protein, but how much do you need and what exactly does that look like? Read on!
How Much Protein Should We Aim For?
According to the RDA, acceptable range for protein is within 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight - a wide range, but one that encompasses 10% to 35% of the total diet. (This said, some people such as athletes, elderly and pregnant or breastfeeding women certainly require more protein than others.)
Old Estimates for Dietary Protein Needs:
- Men: 56 grams each day.
- Women: 46 grams each day.
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: 56 grams each day.
(150 pounds equals 68 kilograms, so a 150 pound person needs between 54 grams and 136 grams.)
However, to provide the greatest benefit, research conducted by Paddon-Jones and Rasmussen and published in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care in 2009 found that we should be aiming for 90 grams of dietary protein each day - and we shouldn't be waiting until supper to get it. Rather we should be enjoying about 30 grams at each meal to divide the protein evenly throughout the day. This will help our bodies to produce as much protein as it can – helping it to maintain a healthy internal environment.
Can You Eat Too Much Protein?
Not really, which is why the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) does not have a limit established for a safe maximum intake of protein. However, just as with everything in life there are always exceptions to the rules. Though I'm telling you that there is no ‘toxic’ amount of protein you can consume, please do not think I'm giving you the green light to live solely on protein!
Protein is only one of the major macronutrients our body relies on for a healthy survival. We also need the other major macronutrients which are carbohydrates and fats. This is why I am not a big fan of the extreme high-protein diets out there. Besides, I’m not sure about you, but I am far more satisfied with a bit of carbohydrates to accompany my protein (e.g. yogurt with trail mix or veggies with hummus) than I would be with a protein only meal. Plain eggs or a couple slices of turkey would definitely leave me jonesing for that je ne sais quois. I would be one unhappy camper if I had to live without my morning oatmeal (carbohydrate), healthy oils (fat) for my veggies, and of course, the afternoon dark chocolate (carbohydrate)!
This is why I am far more supportive of BALANCE. A balanced plate - as is depicted in MyPlate - and a balanced meal plan brings joy and satisfaction.
Important to Note: If you have kidney or liver disease, please consult your health care professional before amping up your protein intake. Diseases such as these harm our organs which help our body to process and filter out the nutrients (and toxins) we eat, therefore if they are not functioning at 100% your organs may not be able to handle the increased protein load.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Protein supports and maintains our body’s growth, muscle mass, immune system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and also in countless repair processes (phew!). But wait, the list goes on as protein is ALSO believed to boost satiety - our feeling of being full.
By adding protein to our meals and snacks we may be able to feel fuller faster – especially when compared with a low-protein or protein-free food! This is probably a big part of why the latest research has indicated a greater protein intake may help prevent weight gain and obesity.
How Can I Get My 90 Grams of Protein?
Ready to shoot for 30 grams of protein per meal?! (Yes, you can split some into your morning or afternoon snack.)
Here are some examples of nutritious and balanced meals with roughly 30 grams of protein:
- Breakfast: Two eggs (6 grams of protein each) with ½ cup cottage cheese (15 grams) topped with sliced pears. (27 grams total)
- Lunch: Whole-grain hummus (1/4 cup has 5 grams) and tomato sandwich (4 grams per slice) and a cup of yogurt (8-12 grams) topped with ¼ cup trail mix (8 grams). (31 grams total)
- Dinner: 4 oz sirloin steak (beef is roughly 7 grams of protein per ounce) with a baked potato (5 grams), steamed carrots, and balsamic strawberries for desert. (33 grams total)
For more specific protein amounts for the foods on your plate, visit the USDA Nutrient Database to learn more.
The bottom line…
By eating 30 grams of protein per meal, we may be able to prevent or treat several chronic diseases - not to mention the increasingly challenging threat of obesity.
This new data surrounding protein offers a recommendation above the current RDA standard. While the RDA encourages enough to prevent nutrient deficiencies, it seems that by bumping the Federal recommendation up to 30 grams per meal we will be able to reach and maintain optimal health throughout our body.
Protein definitely has plenty to offer when it comes to health, however before you start piling on more protein please pause to consider or calculate the amount that is already on your plate. And of course, save room for hearty whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats! A diet rich in healthy protein does not translate to health if the remainder of your diet consists of ice cream, soda, and fried foods. A dash of exercise is a fabulous addition as well!