Do unto protein as you would have protein do unto you. Respect it and it shall respect you. Purposefully consume it and it shall purposefully provide several benefits to your body.
We often hear about diets full of lean, protein rich foods, but we don’t hear enough about how and why consuming enough, too much, or not enough protein is important. Today, I want to delve a little deeper (but not too deep) into one of the most critical macronutrients in our bodies: PROTEINS.
What purpose does protein serve our bodies? Protein has big responsibilities in our body! Just to name a few—our hair, skin, eyesight, bones, and muscles depend on it. Some of the main roles of protein in the body are to provide (a) structure and movement, (b) energy and glucose, (c) blood clotting, (d) build antibodies to fight illness, and (d) to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance. Important stuff, right?
Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 20 total, nine of which our bodies need and cannot create on its own–hence, they are called essential amino acids. That means we must obtain them through our diet. Feel free to read more about essential and non-essential amino acids on the US National Library of Medicine website or simply conduct a basic Google search using
“amino acids” as key words.
How much protein should I eat? The Daily Recommended Intake of protein for an adult (18+ years old) is 10-35% of total calories consumed daily (source: Daily Recommended Intake). A benefit to using the percentage of total calories consumed daily is very useful and arguably more useful to athletes and individuals with a more active lifestyle. For example, I weigh 130 lbs (or 59 kg) and burn at least 500 calories daily via exercise alone. Considering I am not trying to lose weight and instead maintain my weight, I need to consume around 1,800-2,200 calories per day; 180-770 (10-35%) of these calories should come from protein.
Note: A half of a skinless, boneless chicken breast is 30g of protein or 250 calories. So, I would need to eat 1 to 1.5 whole chicken breasts daily to consume enough protein. (This assumes I only ate chicken as a protein source.)
Using this method as a way of informing my daily protein intake, I would end up consuming 75g of protein per day. Note how this number is different than the number I will calculate next using the RDA’s recommendations.
Another way to determine how much protein I should eat daily is looking at the ratio between my protein consumption and body weight. The Recommended Daily Allowance recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. For example, I weigh 59 kg (calculate lbs to kg here). I multiply this number by 0.8 g. The result is 47.2 g. So, I should roughly consume 47 g of protein on a daily basis.
Neither the DRI or RDA recommendations are steadfast rules, but like their names indicate, they are recommendations of how much protein to consume. This is a great segue way into discussing over-consumption and under-consumption of protein.
A few words about protein toxicity and deficiency. I will try to keep this brief. Too much protein in our diets can also result in heart disease, adult bone loss, cancer, decreased muscle mass, kidney disease, weight gain (meat usually has high saturated fat, hence increase in fat intake, and potential weight gain), and irritated digestion in the intestines (bloatedness, gas, constipation, diarrhea).
Diets with not enough protein consumed may result in impaired immunity and an increased risk in experiencing lethargy, heart disease, kidney disease, bone loss, and cancer.
After all of this talk about protein, what are some protein rich foods? Some of my favorite proteins include: salmon, almonds, walnuts, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, chicken, turkey, beans, eggs, soy milk, chia seeds, and tuna fish. A comprehensive list of high quality protein foods is located at ChooseMyPlate.gov. In your spare time, feel free to read this 43 page USDA report about proteins. It’s pretty informative and for the most part, written in lay terms.
Well, there you have it. That’s proteins in a nutshell (pun intended).