Protein is amazingly important for our health and well being. Since protein is the building block of our muscles, organs, tendons and skin, if we are not consuming enough protein in our diet, our body will start tearing down existing structures in our body. Our hormone balance and immune systems are also impacted by the amount of protein we consume. Protein is composed of amino acids, some of which our body produces and some that need to be obtained from our food. Eating less than the recommended daily amount can have wide ranging consequences for our health.
Recommendations for the appropriate amount of protein vary widely, depending on age, sex, activity level and body size. The USDA recommends getting about 15-20% of your daily calories from protein. Each gram of protein has 4 calories, so for a 2000 calorie diet, you would consume 75-100 grams of protein a day. Most studies recommend between .7- 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight depending on activity level and health goals. Athletes and people who work physically demanding jobs usually require more protein than sedentary people.
Protein can be obtained from both animal and non-animal sources. Animal sources of protein offer “complete” proteins. Eggs, lean chicken, grass fed beef and dairy products are all excellent sources of complete proteins. However, few plant based proteins are considered “complete” proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. Soy, buckwheat, quinoa and hemp seeds are just a few plant based “complete” proteins. Vegetarian and vegan don’t despair. Complete proteins are also easy to make by combining legumes like beans, lentils, and peanuts with grains like wheat, rice, and corn.
Most people in America do not have to worry about getting enough protein in their diet. Eating a varied diet of nutritious plant foods and animal products, if you are not vegetarian or vegan, on a daily basis will help insure you meet your protein needs. If you are a relatively healthy person trying to maintain your health, then simply eating quality protein with most of your meals should give you all the protein your body needs, help keep your blood sugar level and help maintain a healthy weight.