Food/Nutrition Columnist
Protein – Getting Enough?
Jun 16, 2014 - 12:03:28 AM

( - Everywhere you turn protein is being touted on a product label -- yogurt, granola, breakfast sandwiches, protein bars. General Mills just released a Cheerios Protein with 7 grams of protein in a serving, more than twice the protein found in traditional Cheerios. The Greek yogurt market has exploded partly because of its higher protein value. People are switching to yogurt for breakfast, because of its protein content, instead of traditional breakfast cereal. Is the average American short on protein? Do you need to eat more?

The answer to both questions is - no and maybe just a little more. Though many groups in the world are protein deficient, Americans get all they need. So why the current hype on protein? Most of it stems from new findings of the value of protein to health. Everyone knows protein is needed to build muscles but now we know that protein is vital in maintaining and losing weight, healthy aging, and diabetes management. Research ( has even shown that a higher protein intake may reduce the risk for stroke.

Protein is a substance that helps form everything from your toenails to your heart muscle. It is part of every cell in your body. It actually holds your body together structurally. Protein or more accurately proteins are made up of smaller fragments called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can be combined in an infinite variety to produce proteins needed in the body. Nine of these amino acids are essential which means they must come from your diet because the body cannot make them.

Your body uses food proteins to make body proteins and it counts on you to eat protein each day to replace its supply. Proteins are found in many foods and the quality varies. Animal foods - meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and milk products - contain all the 9 essential amino acids needed to continuously build and repair your body. They are often referred to as complete proteins. Plant proteins - rice, cereals, beans, nuts, seeds, soybeans - may be lacking in one of more of the essential amino acids. You need to eat a wider variety of plant foods to get all the necessary amino acids. But people who do not eat animal foods can still get enough protein each day.

How much protein do you really need? That is the threshold question and the current marketing hype to push protein-fortified foods has muddied the correct message. The Institutes of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (1 kilograms = 2.2 pounds). That translates into 68 grams of protein a day for a 150-pound person. Most Americans eat about 66 grams of protein each day. Many experts believe this isn't enough and the current recommendations should be increased for optimum health.

Here is where the information about daily protein needs gets more complicated. There isn't a one-size-fits-all recommendation. The amount of protein you need daily is based on your weight, age, and state of health.

Newer recommendations for grams of protein needed each day, per kilogram of body weight.

To make sense of all these numbers and determine your own daily protein need is easy.

1.     Find the daily protein need from the recommendations above that is right for you.

2.     Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms (divide your weight by 2.2).

3.     Multiply your daily protein recommendation by your weight in kilograms.

For example if you are a 45 year old adult who weighs 185 pounds (84 kilograms):

0.9 (protein recommendation) X 84 kilograms = 76 grams of protein each day. Note, that the amount suggested isn't much higher than the average adult intake of 66 grams. Ten ounces of lowfat milk or 1container of Greek yogurt could easily fill the gap.

There are two other facts you should know about protein use by the body. Most Americans eat little or no protein at breakfast, a small amount at lunch and an overabundance at dinner. Current research ( shows eating some protein at every meal (about 30 grams) provides for optimal muscle health and the most efficient use of protein by your body. Second, your body recycles close to two-thirds of the protein it needs each day from broken down proteins in the body. This efficient recycling system is the main reason no one needs to eat very large amounts of protein each day.

For more information on protein and the protein values for over 15,000 foods take a look at one of my latest books, The Protein Counter, 3rd ed. (Pocket Books).

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.

Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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