When it comes to protein, 'more is always better' is the motto touted by food labels, magazine pages and social media "experts." Protein has been promoted as a magic nutrient that we must add to everything to stay healthy. And when we say everything, we mean everything. Not only is it being added to smoothies and protein bars, but companies are adding extra protein to bread, chips, cookies and yogurt. Is this necessary- and more importantly- is this healthy? Let’s break it down…
-Protein is essential to build muscle, hair, blood, enzymes, connective tissue, and to maintain a functioning immune system.
-The daily protein requirements for the average adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; .8g/kg roughly translates to about 56 g/day for the average man and 46 g/day for the average woman.
-If you are exercising intensely most days of the week (aka marathon training, body building, professional athletics), you may need to increase your protein intake to 1.2 g/kg of body weight.
-Pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and those recovering from injuries or surgeries may also have increased protein requirements.
How Much Are We Eating?
A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey analysis revealed that on average, adults consume between 69 and 113 grams of protein per day. This means that most people eat more protein than they need and some people are even consuming double the daily recommended amount. Men tend to over consume while women tend to under consume protein. Overconsumption has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality, while under consumption can lead to muscle wasting and a weakened immune system. Finally, research has shown that higher consumption of plant protein over animal protein is associated with lower mortality.
The Bottom Line
-Protein is crucial for fueling daily activities. Aim to include this macronutrient at each meal and snack.
-Put down that protein-packed cookie. There is no need for protein supplements or protein-enriched foods. As always, eating real, whole foods that your body can recognize is the best way to fuel your body.
-Eat more plant-based protein! Most of us are eating way too much animal protein. A few of our favorite sources: lentils, beans, edamame, tofu, seeds, nuts and whole grains.
By: Ximena Diz, Dietetic Intern and MS Candidate in Clinical Nutrition at NYU