What is in this article?:
- Puzzled by protein? A guide for daily protein needs
- How often should you eat protein?
- Daily protein needs
How much — and what kind of — protein is really best for overall health? We find out the keys to protein intake for a balanced diet.
Daily protein needs
|GRAMS OF PROTEIN PER KILOGRAM||NOTES|
|1 year to 3 years||1.10||—|
|4 years to 13 years||0.95||—|
|14 years to 18 years||0.85||—|
|18 years and older||0.80||Amount based on average inactive adult.|
|Pregnant adult women||1.10||Amount based on prepregnancy body weight.|
|Athletic adults||1.20-1.40||Amount for those who work out actively five days per week. Eat a snack of protein and carbs in a ratio of 1:4 (such as milk and cereal) within 30 minutes after exercise to replenish energy stores and help build muscle.|
|Vegetarian adults||0.80||Vegetarians need to combine protein sources to get adequate essential amino acids.|
|60 years and older||0.80||Some experts think the daily intake should go up to between 1.0 and 1.4 grams. It's best to get assessed for your individual needs.|
|Sources: Debra Boutin, MS, RD; Eileen Vincent, MS, RD.|
These munchies combine protein, fats, and carbohydrates into a well-balanced package.
- Whole-grain toast topped with nut butter and sliced bananas
- Hummus and veggies on whole-grain pita bread
- A handful of nuts and dried fruit
- Yogurt and nuts or fruit
- Cheese slices and whole-grain crackers or vegetable sticks
- A hard-boiled egg and vegetable sticks
- Tuna, whole-grain crackers, and vegetable sticks
- Cheese-and-bean quesadilla triangles
- Cottage cheese and cubed fruit
- Edamame and whole-grain crackers
- Turkey, cheese, and veggie wrap
Source: Debra Boutin, MS, RD
Too much protein powder?
Protein mixes, energy bars, and soy milk are all the rage, which means many of us get a lot of supplemental protein in our diets. Soy, in particular, has been praised for lowering cholesterol, but recent studies question its potency — and whether its positive effects result from soy's healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, and not actually from its protein content. But no one knows for certain if protein isolated from whole foods (for example, the soy protein isolate found in some energy bars) affects our bodies differently than, say, soybeans or tempeh. Most experts agree, however, that when in doubt it's best to choose high-quality, whole-food proteins over processed ones.
Accounting to amino acids
Animal-based protein sources (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) are considered “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids — those the body can't make and needs to get through food sources.
Plant-based protein sources (grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds) usually are limited in one or more essential amino acids. But vegetarians need not despair. You can easily combine plant protein sources to get all the necessary aminos.