It’s National Protein Day: Are You Getting Enough Protein?

When you think of pro­tein, you might think of body­builders or pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes using pro­tein to bulk up their mus­cles. But pro­tein is an essen­tial part of everyone’s diet, and it does so much more than help build muscle.

Pro­tein is often referred to as the build­ing block of life. In oth­er words, pro­tein helps make new cells and repair dam­aged ones. And because cells make up your entire body, pro­tein is crit­i­cal to your growth and development. 

But don’t go splurg­ing on expen­sive (and often sug­ary) pro­tein pow­ders and bars just yet. Depend­ing on your diet, you may already be get­ting enough pro­tein. How­ev­er, there’s also a chance that you’re lack­ing in this cru­cial nutri­ent or your pro­tein sources don’t have enough variety. 

This Nation­al Pro­tein Day, take the time to assess your pro­tein intake. Then, start tak­ing steps to meet your body’s pro­tein needs to help it grow, devel­op, and stay healthy. 

What Does Pro­tein Do for Your Body?

From build­ing mus­cle to repair­ing wounds to pro­duc­ing hor­mones, pro­tein is a cen­tral play­er in keep­ing your body strong and healthy. 

Foods with pro­tein are also often sources of oth­er impor­tant nutri­ents, like vit­a­min B (which builds tis­sue) and zinc (which sup­ports your immune sys­tem). That’s why vari­ety is key when it comes to choos­ing where to get your protein.

How Much Pro­tein Do You Need Each Day?

Your nutri­tion­al needs depend on a wide vari­ety of fac­tors. From your age to your weight to how much you exer­cise, how much of each nutri­ent you need — includ­ing pro­tein — is an indi­vid­ual aspect of your health.

How­ev­er, there are broad pro­tein guide­lines based on your age and sex. As a gen­er­al guide, here’s how many ounces of pro­tein you should aim for each day:

  • Women ages 19 to 30: 5 to 6 ½ ounces (or 141 to 184 grams)

  • Women ages 31 and old­er: 5 to 6 ounces (or 141 to 170 grams)

  • Men ages 19 to 30: 6 ½ to 7 ounces (or 184 to 198 grams)

  • Men ages 31 to 59: 6 to 7 ounces (or 170 to 198 grams)

  • Men 60 and old­er: 5 ½ to 6 ½ ounces (or 155 to 184 grams)

An ounce of pro­tein varies depend­ing on the food. Some ounce-equiv­a­lents of pro­tein are:

  • An ounce of meat (For ref­er­ence, 3 ounces of cooked lean meat is rough­ly the size of the palm of your hand.)

  • ¼ cup of cooked beans

  • 1 table­spoon of peanut butter

  • One egg

  • ½ ounce of nuts or seeds

If you’re con­cerned you’re not get­ting enough pro­tein, sched­ule a vis­it with a Reg­is­tered Dieti­tian at Duly Health and Care to review your dietary and pro­tein needs.

Most Amer­i­cans get enough pro­tein in their diets, but many don’t meet the require­ments for the pro­tein sub­groups. While many get suf­fi­cient pro­tein from meat, poul­try, and eggs, they fall short in cat­e­gories like seafood and nuts, seeds, and soy products. 

How to Get Enough of the Right Pro­tein in Your Diet

Once you’ve deter­mined how much pro­tein you need, you can work on incor­po­rat­ing a vari­ety of pro­tein sources. That way, you’ll be able to increase your oth­er nutri­ents at the same time. For instance, seafood is a great source of pro­tein, and it also pro­vides nutri­ents like omega‑3 fat­ty acids and vit­a­min D. 

Good sources of pro­tein include: 

  • Ani­mal pro­tein, such as turkey, chick­en, and lean cuts of beef or pork

  • Fish and shellfish

  • Beans, includ­ing pin­to beans, black beans, lentils, and gar­ban­zo beans

  • Nuts and seeds, includ­ing almonds, hazel­nuts, peanut but­ter, and sun­flower seeds (Keep in mind — nuts have a lot of fat, so be mind­ful of por­tion sizes.)

  • Soy pro­tein prod­ucts, such as tofu and tempeh

  • Low-fat dairy prod­ucts, such as yogurt and milk

You can also opt for whole grain prod­ucts — like quinoa, brown rice, and oats — instead of refined or white” prod­ucts for an added pro­tein boost.

How to Get Enough Pro­tein as a Veg­e­tar­i­an or Vegan

If you’re veg­e­tar­i­an — or a vari­a­tion, such as a veg­an or pescatar­i­an — you might be con­cerned about how much pro­tein you’re get­ting. This is because many peo­ple asso­ciate pro­tein with meat, which veg­e­tar­i­ans and veg­ans don’t eat. How­ev­er, it’s still pos­si­ble to get enough pro­tein in your diet with­out eat­ing meat with a lit­tle plan­ning and cre­ativ­i­ty. What’s more, it might be a touch health­i­er, as plant-based pro­tein often has more fiber and less sat­u­rat­ed fat com­pared to ani­mal-based protein. 

If you don’t eat meat, focus on plant-based sources of pro­tein, such as: 

  • Legumes (beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils)

  • Soy prod­ucts

  • Whole grains (such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats)

  • Nuts and seeds

If you eat ani­mal prod­ucts, you can also use low-fat or fat-free dairy and eggs to stock up on protein.

Pro­tein: Build­ing Blocks to a Health­i­er You

A bal­anced diet is key to a healthy body, and that includes hav­ing enough (and the right kind of) pro­tein. For­tu­nate­ly, there’s no need for any fan­cy pro­tein prod­ucts. Sim­ply eat­ing a vari­ety of foods is a sim­ple and effec­tive way to get the pro­tein intake you need. 

With a few pur­pose­ful addi­tions to your diet, you can be sure you have enough pro­tein to build and main­tain a healthy body. 

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  • LaBianca Wright, MD - Lombard Primary Care Doctor

    I value developing relationships with my patients and their families, treating chronic health issues, and providing preventative care. I believe in partnering with my patients so that they are active participants throughout their care. I provide patient education to empower them to live healthier lives.