HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO WE NEED?
Recently I've noticed that no matter whom I talk to, whether in conversations with patients in my practice or just friends outside of the office, no one seems to have a clue about how much protein they need? Do you?
Let's first discuss what protein is and why we need it... Protein is essential to the body because it serves as a building block, like a "Lego", for so much of what we're made of. No matter which Lego creation you wish to make, even wildly different designs, they can't be made without the basic Lego block which is the whole foundation of the set. Similarly, skin, muscles, bones, the organs of the body, red and white blood cells, hormones, enzymes, and every one of our cells are comprised of fundamental building blocks of protein.
Every day in our body there are old cells which are dying off in order to be replaced by new ones. When they die, the protein building blocks from the cells are mostly recycled, but the body's protein recycling efficiency is not quite 100%. A few grams of protein are lost through our digestive tract and urine. A gram is about the weight of a paperclip, and it just so happens that... The average sedentary 165 lb man looses the equivalent of about 70 grams (70 paperclips) weight of protein a day, and the average sedentary 130 lb woman looses the equivalent of about 50 grams (50 paperclips) weight of protein a day.
These figures are based on how much protein is lost from just the activities of daily living for people who are basically middle-aged couch potatoes. So, even engaging in minimal subsistence living day to day, everyone still needs to replace at least as much protein as they lose! Otherwise, here's what happens... when there isn't enough protein in our diets to replace what's lost, the body will first begin to "eat away" it's own muscles at the expense of losing the protein in our more vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, nervous system, blood, etc.
When we lose muscle, we become succeptible to injury more easily, and with less muscle to burn the calories we are eating, more of the calories we consume are turned into fat... so we lose muscle weight and gain fat weight. Lately, I've seen so many people in my office whose body aches are so clearly -- in part -- due to poor dietary protein intake, that I have to mention this in our first visit!
Sooo... how much protein do we need? Well if you are the average size middle age sedentary man or woman, divide your body weight by 2, and that's about how many grams of protein you need. If you are younger & growing, pregnant or breast feeding, or more athletic, you can need significantly more protein... and perhaps you may need to divide your body weight by only 1.5 to arrive at how many grams of protein you need.
Where do you get protein? Well look at the picture below. While, yes, there is some protein in everything, it is found in highest amounts in meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds, and certain grains.
Here's an easy formula, 1 ounce of meat/fish/poultry has 7 grams of protein. So if you are our typical middle age couch potato, and you are a 130 lb woman, you need 50 grams of protein daily, which amounts to about 7 ounces of M/F/P per day. If your are a 165 lb sedentary man you need 70 grams of protein daily, which amounts to about 10 ounces of M/F/P per day. If you want to be healthier about your protein choices, part of your protein should come from non-animal sources each day... below is a way to calculate how to substitue other sources of protein in your diet:
Here are some substitutions: 1 ounce of Meat/Fish/Poultry can be replaced by ...
1 whole egg or 2 egg whites
1/4 cup organic cottage cheese
1/2 cup organic Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cooked beans,peas, legumes
1/2 cup organic tofu
2 Tbs raw nut butter
1 oz raw milk cheese
1 ½ slices whole grain bread
1/2 cup dry oatmeal
¼ cup dry high protein (buckwheat, barley, millet, amaranth, farro, spelt, teff)
So, here's an example of what you might eat for protein if you are a Sedentary middle aged 130 lb woman trying to get about 7 oz of meat/fish/poultry protein a day... (if you're very active, athletic, or larger you may have to double this.)
Add 2 eggs, or 1 cup of oatmeal, or a 1 cup of Greek yogurt, or a 1/2 cup cottage cheese -- to supply 2 of your 7 ounces of protein needed
Add 2 ounces of meat/fish/poultry, or 1 cup cooked beans, or 2 slices whole grain bread, or two 1 oz slices of cheese, or 3 tablespoons nut butter -- to supply 2 more of your 7 ounces of protein needed
Add 3 ounces of meat/fish/poultry, or 1 1/2 cups tofu -- to supply the additional 3 more of your 7 ounces of protein needed
So take a moment now and try to figure out your protein needs based upon your age, size, weight, and activity level.
(1) If you're close to a couch potato divide your weight by 2 -- if you're close to a super athlete or need more protein because you're growing, pregnant or nursing, divide by 1.5 or 1.25 to get the amount of grams of protein you need daily.
(2) Take that number of grams of protein you need, and now divide that amount by 7, to find out the number of ounces of meat/fish/poultry you need. (A sedentary 130 lb woman at the low end may need 7 oz of m/f/p per day, a very athletic 200 lb male at the high end may need 15 oz of m/f/p or more.)
(3) Try to get a mental picture of what you might be able to add to your meals of either animal-based or preferrably plant-based protein for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to achieve this goal. Use the chart above.
So... Unfortunately, since our mothers are not cooking for us anymore, it does take some thought now every day in order to eat right! Understanding and achieving a proper protein intake is one of the key steps you can now take on the road to trying to improve your diet so as to have an immediate positive impact on your overall health.
PLEASE ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF DIETARY ADVICE DUE TO AN ILLNESS OR ARE TAKING MEDICATIONS.