I get questions all the time about how much protein to eat. Let me start by telling you what protein is, what foods are good sources of protein, what foods are not good sources of protein, and how much protein is ideal. Ready? Let’s dive in!
Proteins are another of the 3 main macronutrients. We talked about Fats last week (and we’ll talk about Carbohydrates next week). Proteins are comprised of amino acids, a.k.a. “the building blocks of life.” There are certain essential amino acids that our body requires, and a “complete” protein contains these essential amino acids. Every tissue in our body is made up of protein! We have to have protein to survive. So, what are some good sources of high protein foods?
Protein Food Sources
- Animal sources – these are great sources of complete proteins. Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs are all examples of animal proteins.
- Dairy products – these come from animal sources too, but also tend to contain some carbohydrates in addition to proteins. We’ll talk more about carbs next week, but dairy proteins include milk, cheese, and yogurt. Protein content varies a lot, so look at labels and choose the ones with the highest protein and the fewest carbohydrates if you are trying to lose or maintain weight.
- Protein powders – protein powders contain complete proteins, either from whey, soy, pea, or some other combination of sources. You can add protein powders to smoothies, oatmeal, or simply mix with water and drink. Watch out for added sugars in protein powders, as well as hidden gluten.
- Plant proteins – protein from plants is typically not a complete protein on its own, but the magic happens when you combine sources. For example, eat beans and rice together – each provides different and complementary amino acids, and together they make a complete protein. Variety is your friend here. Eat a wide variety of plants (veggies, grains, legumes) in a wide variety of colors for your best health.
- Nuts and seeds – these contain protein, but not a lot. They also have lots of calories and fat, so do eat them if you enjoy them, just don’t go overboard.
How much protein do you actually need? The Institute for Functional Medicine recommends that 20-30% of your daily calories should come from protein. So if you are eating 2000 calories a day, your protein intake should be approximately 400-600 calories. Always be sure to drink plenty of water – at least 64 ounces a day, especially when you’re consuming a lot of protein, to help keep your kidneys healthy.
Source: The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2017.