Healthy Diet & Nutrition

What You Need to Know About Protein Intake

Protein gets a lot of publicity these days. Just think of all the protein bars, shakes and powders out there. It’s supposed to help with weight loss and build muscle. But what’s the real story? Here, from an article in the Mayo News Network, is what you should know:

“Contrary to all the hype that everyone needs more protein, most Americans get twice as much as they need,” Kristi Wempen, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian nutritionist, said in the article. “This is especially true for males 14-70 years of age, who the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise to decrease meat, poultry and egg consumption. Even athletes are often getting more protein than they need, without supplements, because their calorie requirements are higher. And with more food comes more protein.”

And, Mayo says, while you need to get enough protein, you’re not going to build muscles by consuming it. That will come, the article says, through extra strength training. To build muscle, you need exercise.

Although adequate protein throughout the day is necessary, too much isn’t good. “The body can’t store protein, so once needs are met, any extra is used for energy or stored as fat,” Wempen told the Mayo News Network. “Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body.”

Additionally, the article says, extra protein intake can lead to elevated blood lipids and heart disease: Many high-protein foods are high in total fat and saturated fat. Extra protein intake, which can tax the kidneys, is yet another risk if you’re predisposed to kidney disease.

What’s a sensible intake? The Mayo article says anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your calories. So, if your needs are 2,000 calories, that’s 200-700 calories from protein (50-175 grams). The recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person who weighs 75 kilograms (165 pounds) should consume 60 grams of protein per day.

People who exercise regularly have higher needs, about 1.1-1.5 grams per kilogram. People who lift weights regularly or are training for a running or cycling event need 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram

The healthiest sources of protein include: soy, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils; lean meats (white meat chicken or turkey and lean cuts of beef or port); fish; egg whites; and low-fat dairy.

Wempen recommended getting your protein from food rather than supplements.

“Manufactured foods don’t contain everything you need from food, nor do manufacturers know everything that should be in food. There may be compounds in real foods that we haven’t even discovered yet that may be beneficial for the body. So always be careful of foods created in a lab.”

As for when you should eat your protein, Wempen suggested doing it consistently throughout the day.  In the article, she said that if you want to use a protein supplement, choose one that is no more than 200 calories; 2 grams or fewer of saturated fat; no trans fat or partially hydrogenated oils; no more than 5 grams of sugar.

If you don’t want to go the supplement route, however, here are some specific examples of how to get protein via food: a banana, Greek yogurt and a hardboiled egg will equals about 19 gramse. Other choices: a three-ounce chicken breast with a half cup rice and half cup vegetables amounts to 25 grams. And, the article says, be sure to include in your diet food groups such as grain, dairy, fruit and vegetables.

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