Currently, the recommended amount of protein per day is 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight. First of all, why the heck is it a calculation that involves the metric system? Talk about confusing most people, making it difficult for them to do the math in their head. That is the initial reason I don’t trust that we are told the correct information about how much protein we truly need on a daily basis.
What is Protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids which form chains that make up the protein strands. The amino acid chains that are linked together to form strands of protein are what differentiate the protein types. There are two main types of protein: animal (poultry, fish, meat) and plant (soy, nuts, seeds, legumes.) Amino acids are divided into both essential (the body cannot make them, so we have to get them from food in our diet) and non-essential (which we can make by breaking down essential amino acids into non-essential in our bodies.)
What are Sources of Protein?
Another facet to this is what constitutes a “good” protein? Most of the nutrition world believes that the sources of high quality protein are the ones that contain all 20 amino acids. This would be found solely in animal-based proteins (fish, poultry, and red meats)- eggs being the highest quality protein of all. However, if you have variety in your diet, you can limit your animal-based protein intake and maintain a healthy, low-fat diet as well as receive all of the amino acids necessary to keep your body going.
I have very low confidence in the government’s food pyramid and the general guidance they provide people with about the quantity and quality of foods we need. In actuality, we are all such different people with varying needs. With this thought, how is it even possible to provide such measures for everyone without knowing them on a personal health and nutritional level? Simple-it’s not.
Ratios are a big part of how I work with nutrition clients to determine their very specific, personal needs. You take the total amount of calories you eat per day and you divide them up by food group based on the ratio you eat of each food group in a day.
For example, some people thrive off of a 40:30:30 diet where you eat 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat. How this works…If you eat a 1500 calorie diet, then you would be consuming:
- 40% x 1500 = 600 calories from carbohydrates per day
- 30% x 1500 = 450 calories from protein per day
- 30% x 1500 = 450 calories from fat per day
Many people also subscribe to and find other equations better fit them: 50:25:25 is a good equation for many people who limit their animal-based protein intake or 40:35:25 for those who eat more protein to build body mass like body builders and many professional athletes.
But not everyone’s body fits this equation. What about people who require or eat even less protein?
- As we age, we need less and less protein in our diet, oftentimes because it can be more difficult to digest, so these equations do not work for the aging population
- Vegetarians and vegans tend to thrive off of a lower protein diet and most of these calculations would not work for them
- People with chronic disorders who cannot ingest large amounts of protein cannot go by simple equations
How can you measure your protein needs in a general calculation?
For a healthy population between 18 and 50 years of age, you can use these calculations if you want a place to start:
- You can take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.4 grams for an average
- 120 lbs x 0.4 grams = 48 grams of protein/day
- You can multiply your daily caloric intake by 10-15% (or the ratio you subscribe to) to get calories or grams per day of protein you needs
- 1500 calories eaten per day x .15 = 225 calories in protein per day
- 225 grams of protein per day/7 grams per serving = 32 grams of protein/day
A Few Important Notes:
- Nutrition isn’t an exact science for every individual. Find out your daily protein needs by trying several different ratios of food intake-try one ratio, documenting how you feel and your weight throughout the month. If that ratio isn’t right for you, the next month try another, and so on.
- Protein intake should only be 2-4 ounces per meal (a regular restaurant portion is 8-10 ounces!)
- You should have protein at every meal to aid in stabilizing blood sugar and stoking the fires of the metabolism.
- It does not have to be a “complete” protein, it can be nuts, seeds, hard cheese, cottage cheese, hummus, etc. at snack time
- I am here to declare it myth that If you are vegan, dairy-free, or just limit animal-based proteins, you do not get enough protein
- The truth is, you can survive with less protein in your diet when you eat a higher amount of high fiber whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats, which should be how we all eat!