How Much Protein Do You Need?

Protein food group
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Protein is essential for building and maintaining the various tissues and organs of your body. Some of the hormones and parts of your immune system are made out of protein as well. Your daily protein need depends on your age, body size, and sex.

Readers often ask me how much protein they require, and they're often surprised to learn it isn't as much as they expected. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests about 15 to 20 percent of your calories come from protein. Each gram of protein has four calories, so for a 2,000 calorie per day diet, that equals 75 to 100 grams of protein per day. A person who eats 1,500 calories per day would need about 55 to 75 grams per day.

That's quite a spread, but you can narrow it down by basing your protein needs on your body weight. The average adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 pounds (75kg) would need about 60 grams of protein per day.

A few weight loss diets suggest upping your intake of protein, but that may not really be necessary. But, eating a little protein with every meal may help you feel full longer, just make sure you pick protein sources that are good for you.

Best Protein Sources

Protein comes from both plant and animal sources. It doesn't really matter which form you consume (unless you're a vegetarian or vegan of course), what is important is how you treat the protein in the kitchen. A good protein source is one that's prepared in a way that doesn't add extra fat, sugar, or extra sodium.

Lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products are all excellent sources of protein. Choosing lower-fat cuts of meat or removing the skin from chicken and turkey is a good way to cut extra calories. Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, and herring make good protein choices because they're also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

There are also plant sources of protein.  Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of protein, but even vegetables and grains have small amounts. And just like for the animal-sourced proteins, keep your plant proteins healthy by choosing recipes and cooking methods that preserve their nutritional goodness. Like this:

  • Use tofu in place of meat in a stir-fry.
  • Choose fresh or plain roasted nuts instead of flavored or sugar-coated variety that contain extra sugar.
  • Add nuts or seeds to a big garden salad and serve it as a meal.
  • Use dry beans like kidney, navy or black beans as your primary protein source for a few meals.
  • Try quinoa instead of rice or potatoes as a side dish.

Protein and Understanding Serving Sizes

Here is where many protein eaters go wrong. One serving of protein is equal to one egg, 3 to 5 ounces of meat, poultry or fish, 1.5 ounces of cheese or about 12 walnuts. So a serving of meat, poultry or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand, and a serving of cheese is the same size as two dice (regular 6-sided dice, not 12- or 20-sided extra-large Dungeons and Dragons dice).

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