How Much Protein Do I Need?

In today’s world, health and wellness trends are constantly evolving. Recently, protein has been at the forefront of the conversation due to its nutritional value and weight- loss capabilities. There is no better time to become informed on how to use the power of protein to your advantage without overdoing it.

Why do we need protein in our diets?

Protein is often referred to as the “building block of life,” and there is a good reason why. When consumed, protein is digested into chains of amino acids that help our bodies perform vital tasks such as building and repairing tissue. Everything from our brain and our heart to our fingernails and skin is constructed from amino acids. Amino acids even play a major part in creating the chromosome structure that contains our genetic DNA.

Unlike other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates and fat, our bodies are not capable of storing proteins. Additionally, 9 out of the 22 different types of amino acids that exist are “essential” amino acids, meaning they can’t be produced by our bodies, and therefore must come directly from the protein we consume. Because of this, our well-being depends on our ability not only to eat the right amount of protein but also eat the right type of protein throughout the day.

protein rich foods

How much protein a day?

While protein intake varies by age, health, sex, and level of activity, according to the Institute of Medicine, protein intake should be at least 10% of our daily diet, but no more than 35%. This equates to about 45 grams of protein a day for healthy women and about 56 grams a day for healthy men. Interestingly enough, however, in the United States, most of us are getting significantly more protein than we need. Most American adults eat about 100 grams of protein per day, which is approximately double the recommended intake.

According to Jim White, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “The body only digests and absorbs a certain amount of protein at every meal. People think that if they fill up with protein, it will be a magic bullet, whether for weight loss or to get in better shape and build muscle — but that’s not proving to be true.”

Much of this overconsumption of protein can be attributed to the protein craze that has swept the United States for the past several years. With high-protein shakes, bars and diet plans promising weight-loss and muscle development; it is important to make sure that you are getting the right types of protein and not too much of it.

What is the best type of protein?

There are hundreds of sources of protein, all providing varying benefits. When picking your proteins, it is important that you consider the whole package. Limiting saturated fat, sodium, and processed meats is always a good idea. Also, unless you are a serious athlete or taking part in strenuous training, real food is recommended above protein supplements.

Some sources of proteins, such as meat and eggs, are considered “complete” proteins, meaning that they contain all nine of the essential amino acids. Although many plant-based sources are incomplete proteins on their own, they can be combined to form complete proteins. This is partly why rice and beans are such a historically important and popular combination.

high protein diet

What is a high protein diet? Do they work and what are the risks?

High-protein diet plans (such as Atkins and Dukan) have become increasingly popular for weight loss, and according to The Hartman Group, a consumer research firm that has been studying American food culture for the past 25 years, almost 60% of Americans are actively trying to increase their protein intake. While high-protein diets have shown short-term effectiveness for weight loss, there are long-term risks that should be considered before giving one of them a shot.

Switching to a low-carb, high-protein diet causes your body to go into a metabolic state called Ketosis, where it burns its own fat for fuel rather than burning carbohydrates, leading to weight loss. The primary risk associated with Ketosis is overworking the kidneys, which must convert amino acids from protein into a usable source of energy. Although the long-term risks of high-protein diets have not been studied in depth, researchers suggest that there is an association between habitual high protein intake and a heightened risk of diabetes.

Ultimately, the short-term trends of high-protein diets may help you quickly shed a few pounds, but the risks likely outway the benefits. To obtain a healthy and balanced diet that can be sustained, it is recommended that you combine complete proteins with complex carbs and mono-unsaturated fats. Including protein in all of your meals throughout the day can help you feel full longer and keep your muscles strong and healthy. Click here to find out more health and wellness tips from Meritage!

Please consult with your physician before going on any new nutrition plan.

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