How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the question of how much protein is enough protein and there are many factors that play a role in the answer. The dietary reference index (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. DRI’s are nutrient reference values set by the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies and they serve as guidelines for nutrition throughout the United States and Canada. For example, if someone weighed 150 lbs or 68 kg multiplied by 0.8 g they would need 54 g of protein a day to meet the DRI. This number is generalized though and there are other factors to take into consideration; like if a disease or illness is present, if the person is an athlete, or if they consume a vegan or vegetarian diet.
In the 1950’s protein deficiency used to be a major concern among healthcare professionals and people began to over eat protein as the recommendations were almost twice what they currently are. As more research on protein immerged these recommendations were slowly lowered to the 0.8 g/kg/day they are now. Research in today’s day in age shows that it is more common to have a diet with excessive protein than deficient protein in first world countries.
Protein is made up of amino acids that play an important role in metabolism and bodily functions. There are 20 amino acids; 10 non-essential ones that your body produces on its own, and 10 essential ones that you need to get from diet. Plants need to produce all 20 amino acids to survive, which means that plant-based foods can provide you with the 10 essential amino acids your body doesn’t produce. Animals are the same as us, they can produce 10 and they need to consume 10; which they do from eating plants. It used to be thought that plant proteins were “incomplete” meaning that they didn’t contain all 10 essential amino acids and had to be paired with meat proteins in order to be “complete”. This concept has been debunked though and there is no longer a concept of complete vs incomplete protein.
The amount of protein that you are consuming may surprise you. Some examples of plant based high protein foods include quinoa, chia seeds, peanut butter, beans, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, almonds, peas, pistachios, asparagus, lima beans, and potatoes. High protein meat-based foods include chicken, milk, yogurt, cheese, red meat, pork, eggs, turkey, salmon, tuna fish, and shrimp.
The requirements for daily protein intake do not change whether you consume meat or are vegetarian/vegan. The source of protein just changes. Protein requirements do change however for someone who is in a critically ill disease state or a collegiate or professional athlete. It is recommended that these populations get 1-1.5 g/kg/day rather than the 0.8 g/kg/day. Someone who is critically ill needs this higher protein intake because their body systems are functioning at a higher rate and they may have increased protein breakdown if they are bed bound or in an ICU for long periods of time. For a collegiate or professional athlete their body systems also require more energy because they are exerting more energy during their workouts or games and they are also usually looking to keep protein buildup higher than protein breakdown.
Overall the amount of protein you are consuming isn’t something to worry about if you are a healthy adult who isn’t a professional athlete. The average adult consumes enough, if not more, protein than the requirements if they consume meat and plant-based foods. Vegetarians and vegans also on average consume enough protein, they just may need to plan out meals more to make sure they are getting protein every day.