Are You Getting Enough Protein?

May 3, 2024

By Anna Varriano

Proteins provide us with amino acids – the building blocks of life! From muscle maintenance, growth and repair, to immune function, to the production of crucial enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones, to so much more, protein’s importance to our health cannot be overstated.

With all the hype around protein – especially protein powders – you may be wondering how much you really need and what the best sources are. Keep reading to find out!

The Daily Dose: How Much Protein Do You Need?

The amount of protein you need depends on several factors, including your age, gender, and activity level. The good news is most people don’t need to chug protein shakes.

General Guidelines: According to research, most adults with minimal physical activity need around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Active Lifestyles: If you hit the gym regularly, you might need a bit more protein to support muscle growth and repair. Research suggest aiming for 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Age Matters: Children and teenagers are growing machines, so their protein needs are also slightly higher. Pregnant and breastfeeding women also require an extra protein boost.

Note: I have provided a link to a Health Canada resource at the end of this blog for more details.

Protein Powerhouses: Where to Find Your Daily Dose

At the very beginning of this blog, I mentioned that proteins provide us with amino acids which are the building blocks of life. Without getting too “sciency” about it, although there are hundreds of amino acids found in nature, only about 20 amino acids are needed to make all the proteins found in the human body. Of these 20 amino acids, some are classified as ‘non-essential’, which means the body can make them from other substances, and some are classified as ‘essential’, which means the body cannot make them from other substances and must get them from food.

The more variety we have in our diet regarding the types of protein we eat, the more likely we’ll be to provide our body with all the amino acids it needs to keep us healthy. While protein powders may be helpful in some circumstances, they generally shouldn’t be used as a substitute for whole food sources of protein, which in addition to providing amino acids, provide many other important nutrients, such as healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Some protein powders/shakes contain substances that are far from healthy, including sugars, additives, preservatives, and thickeners that are known bowel irritants. Please read labels carefully!

Given the fact that you can find protein in a wide variety of animal-based and plant-based foods, meeting your daily protein requirements can be achieved by getting your protein from a variety of sources:

Animal-Based Sources: Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are all excellent sources of high-quality protein. Buy organic and grass-fed/pastured when possible. By the way, eggs score 100% on the protein bioavailability scale. Bioavailability refers to the percentage of a substance that enters the bloodstream and is available for ‘action’. Fun fact: two large eggs provide approximately 12 grams of protein!

Plant-Based Sources: Beans, peas, lentils, soy products such as tofu and tempeh (soy-based foods should be non-GMO and consumed in moderation), nuts, and seeds are all packed with protein. The key for vegetarians and vegans is to combine different plant-based sources to ensure they get all the essential amino acids. An example is combining brown rice with beans.

A Word of Caution: Too Much of a Good Thing?

While protein is essential, exceeding your daily needs isn’t necessarily better; in fact, studies suggest that excessive protein intake might put strain on your kidneys (particularly in individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions). This is because the kidneys are the main route for eliminating the toxic by-products of protein metabolism (e.g. urea/uric acid) from the body. Be kind to your kidneys! :)

Excess protein can also contribute to other health problems, including:

Bone health issues: While protein is essential for bone health, some studies suggest that excessive protein consumption may leach calcium from bones, potentially weakening them over time.

Nutrient imbalances: Focusing solely on protein-rich foods may lead to a deficiency in other essential nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The Takeaway: Balance is Key

While protein is undoubtedly essential for optimal health and function, balance is key! By incorporating a variety of protein sources into a well-rounded diet and paying attention to individual nutritional needs, you can harness the power of protein to support your body’s functions without falling into the pitfalls of overconsumption.

If you have any concerns about your protein intake, consult a health care professional, such as a Registered Nutritional Therapist (like yours truly).

FYI, I don’t fuss with counting grams or calories and simply aim for ¼ of my plate to be protein (and ¾ veggies … and a TBSP or so of healthy fat). If you prefer to get more detailed regarding protein requirements, here are a few references for you:

Click here for a resource that includes a list of protein-rich foods including grams per serving size.

Click here for Health Canada’s Dietary intake tables: Reference values for macronutrients.

 

Image credits: Generated with https://designer.microsoft.com/image-creator.

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