Am I Getting Enough Protein?

October 19th, 2018 by Dr. Wendy Gregory

As we juggle work and family responsibilities, most of us try to keep an eye on the scale and on good nutrition in general.  But making good nutritional choices gets more confusing with each new diet fad that crosses the Internet. Keto? Paleo? Whole 30? South Beach? Atkins? …Really?

Most of these plans restrict carbohydrates, some more severely than others. The “allowed foods” list is weighted toward high-protein choices. Low-carb plans appeal to the common belief that most of us need more protein. Unfortunately, many people will substitute fats or high-fat protein sources for the carbs they miss.

Even if you can avoid that pitfall, do you really benefit from more protein? Do high-protein diets—with or without weight loss—give you more energy, improve overall health, or contribute to a longer life?

Protein is the building block of all our body tissues. But the ideal amount our diet should contain is not clear. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is .36 grams per pound of body weight per day. So, a woman weighing 140 lbs. would want to consume at least 51 grams of protein each day. For example, 4 oz. of chicken, 1 egg, and a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt would do it. If at least 10% of your daily calories come from protein, you will usually meet the RDA. The average American gets about 16% of his or her calories from protein. However, remember that the RDA is the minimum amount we need.

Is more protein better?

Some nutrition professionals feel that the RDA is too low. Most agree that certain situations increase our need for protein. Athletes need more protein, as do pregnant and breastfeeding women, and person recovering from surgery or injury. Extra protein may help us preserve muscle mass as we age.

Can your diet contain too much protein?

More is not always better, especially if the extra protein comes in the form of more red meat or processed meat or other foods that contain large amounts of saturated fat. Some research suggests that high-protein diets are linked to higher cholesterol levels, increased cancer risk, kidney stones or disease, constipation or other digestive problems. But we cannot say whether the diet itself or some other factor actually caused these problems. Since experts don’t agree, how do we know how much is too much? From Harvard Health “… for the average person (who is not an elite athlete or heavily involved in body building) it’s probably best to avoid more than 2 gm/kg; that would be about 125 grams/day for a 140-pound person. New information could change our thinking about the maximum safe amount, but until we know more about the safety, risks and benefits of high protein diets, this seems like a reasonable recommendation.”

More important, try to focus on choosing lean, high-quality proteins. Besides lean meats and dairy products, include fish, beans, and nuts. Try also to space your protein-rich foods throughout the day.

Should you use protein bars, shakes, powders, or other supplements if you believe your diet is protein deficient?

I strongly prefer real foods over supplements, unless there is a medical reason that an individual is protein deficient. Real foods offer a rich package of nutrients besides protein. Just a reminder, dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. They may contain added sugars. The FDA does not routinely test them for toxins, impurities, or even to determine that they contain what they claim. There is not much research data on the long-term effects of using these products.

So…Eat Mor Proteen? The answer is “eat better protein” and make a balanced choice of all food groups. Wishing you and your family good health!