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Protein -- Are You Eating Enough?

Most American women don’t eat enough protein.  Surprising, in an affluent nation such as ours, isn’t it? But, the facts don’t lie. Here, before you, are the facts, from the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

All those black bars on the left of the graph…  those bars show the shortfalls, which are markedly greater for women than men. Now, some of this shortfall is caused by economic realities; protein-rich foods can be pricey. But, some of this shortfall is due to our nation’s move toward a plant-based diet. If you have, perhaps, convinced yourself that broccoli has as much protein as steak, you might want to check out this post by the brilliant and no-nonsense-yet-amusing registered dietician (and MPH) Adele Hite, who will set you straight.

Adele and I had a chance to sit down, over pork chops, and discuss 'adequate protein,' and how fundamental it is to a healthy diet. In fact, adequate protein (not high protein -- just enough) should be a key priority in the dietary guidelines. Just how much protein is enough? That is very hard to say. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 46g for women and 56g for men. It is based on about 0.36g of daily dietary protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, the math (130lb x 0.36g/lb) suggests a minimum of 46g of protein each day. This is low – most affluent populations eat more protein – perhaps 70-100g per day.  However, according to the Institute of Medicine, the keeper of the RDA’s, 46g of protein is enough to prevent malnutrition. A little more would be better, especially since protein tends to be filling and can help with keeping weight gain at bay.

Looking at the chart, above, we learn that 70% of high school girls and 70% of elderly women do not even manage to consume 46g of protein each day.  Between age 19 and 70, about 50% of women are not getting enough protein. Obviously, there is plenty of room for improvement here.

Are you eating enough protein? What does 46g of protein look like, you might ask?  (And remember, 46g would be a minimum daily intake for a 130 pound adult.)

Examples of food that contains roughly 46g of protein:

  •  7 or 8 large eggs
  • 5-6 oz of skinless chicken or turkey breast
  • 5 cups of 2% milk
  •  2 ¼ hamburger patties (each made from ¼ pound 85% lean ground beef)
  •  1 ½ cups almonds (about 180 nuts)*
  •  2.5 cans of pinto beans*
  • 3.5 cups (7 servings) Grape Nuts cereal*

* With the vegetarian sources, care must be taken to make sure the protein is complete. (For more on that, see the latter half of Adele’s post.)

Why is protein important? We use protein to build and repair our tissues. (This means active women need more than sedentary women.) We use protein to build babies and manufacture breast milk. (So if you are in that stage of life, eat plenty of protein!) We use protein to make hormones and enzymes. So, if you want to keep your body in good shape (in repair and running smoothly), you need high quality protein.

For more on protein, check out this piece from Authority Nutrition.