PROTEIN NEEDS: DOES EVERYONE HAVE THEIR OWN REALITY?

This year, IFIC Foundation’s Food and Health Survey asked 1000 Americans about what they consider when they purchase packaged food or beverages and 63% responded that they are looking for protein. In fact, 57% of respondents indicated that they are trying to get a certain amount or as much protein as possible, which ranks in the top 3 responses and only slightly behind fiber and whole grains in desirability.This interest in protein isn’t surprising to those who visit health clubs where frequently a large variety of protein powders and shakes are heavily promoted and often consumed in large quantities. Neither would it surprise the lunchtime crowds who wait in line at urban quick service restaurants specializing in menu selections focused on their protein content. What is puzzling, however, is the disconnect between consumer interest in dietary protein intake and health professional dogma that suggests “most Americans get more than enough protein each day, and may be getting too much of this nutrient from animal sources, like meat, poultry, and eggs.”

At the root of this difference appears to be how one defines “enough” protein. The Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences advises the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) including dietary protein recommendations, based on preventing deficiency, which is very different from promoting optimal health. The RDA of 0.8g/kg/day is defined as the amount of protein that would satisfy the needs of almost all (98%) of the population. The RDA is not the requirement of an individual or even a mean for individuals, which has led to some misinterpretation. Rather, the RDA is the amount of the nutrient, such as protein, that is almost certain to be adequate for all individuals in a specified population, except those with the very highest requirement. A good resource to learn more about the established protein recommendations and health can be found in the Protein: A Nutrient for All Ages fact sheet on the IFIC Foundation website. However, this recommendation does not take into account the source of the protein, its quality; which reflects its amino acid content, the individual’s level of activity nor their distribution of protein intake over the day which may have some consequence on protein utilization. In addition to the RDA, the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences also sets an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) whichis the range of intake for a particular energy source that is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease while providing intakes of essential nutrients. For protein, the range of intake is generally between 10-35% of total calorie intake for adults. This level of consumption of protein is thought to confer benefits beyond simply the prevention of deficiency, such as reducing the risk of certain diseases (i.e., obesity and diabetes) and delaying the onset or progression of muscle loss with aging (i.e., sarcopenia).  Many of the benefits of protein intake are provided in IFIC Foundation’s Protein: A Nutrient for All Ages fact sheet.

Do Americans Get Enough Protein?

The answer to this question is more complex than one would think. First one must consider an appropriate calorie intake, because how much protein you need is based on a percentage of total calories you consume and your level of activity. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, calorie needs of adult females are between 1,800-2,000 for those who do only light activity; 2,000-2,200 calories for women who are physically active and regularly include some physical activity such as walking 1.5 to 3 miles per day at a rate of 3-4 miles per hour; and 2,400 calories for women who, besides having active lifestyles, regularly participate in activities such as walking more than 3 miles a day at 3-4 miles per hour. For adult men, the recommended calorie intake for the  same 3 activity levels are 2,400-2,600 for light activity, 2,600-2,800 for moderate and 3,000 for active men. Therefore, using the AMDR for protein, women need anywhere from 45-55 grams of protein for the least active to the upper limits of the recommended level of protein intake of 158-210 grams per day for the most active. For men, the same range of protein intake would suggest an appropriate protein intake of 60-75 grams at the lower range of protein intake to 263 grams per day at the highest end of the range of recommended protein intake for the most physically active men.

When comparing the data collected by the US Department of Agriculture in their report What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010 we see that generally sedentary women and men are meeting their protein needs, but at higher levels of activity, including moderate activity, additional protein intake is recommended.In fact, a man who briskly walks about 3 miles a day may be consuming less than half of his daily protein needs. It should be mentioned that protein recommendations are meant for healthy individuals and during periods of fever, infection, pregnancy or other growth periods protein needs are increased.

Why should anyone be concerned about their protein intake?

Although most Americans meet their minimal protein needs, there are benefits of protein intake at higher than the minimum levels, while still consuming an appropriate number of calories and staying within the recommended 35% of calories from protein. For athletes, the nitrogen supply that only protein-rich foods offers, encourages muscle synthesis and repair of body tissue, vital for increased muscle strength. Protein intake is especially important during periods of growth such as infancy and a teenage growth spurt when demands for nitrogen are especially high. For baby boomers who are noticing an accumulation of fat tissue where muscle tissue used to reside, especially around the midsection, protein intake accompanied by resistance training can help maintain muscle tone and limit fat deposition. Additionally, for those struggling to maintain or achieve an acceptable body weight, a higher ratio of protein to carbohydrate intake can help reduce hunger for longer periods following meals making it easier to resist the temptation to snack.

I’ve heard excess protein intake is turned into fat. isn’t that a problem?

Any excess calories above the calories you need to support your basic bodily functions along with some physical activity will be stored for future energy needs. Our bodies are remarkable at storing extra calories in the event we forget our hunter/gathering skills and spend days without nourishment. The key is finding a balance of how many calories you need to meet your calorie and nutrient needs, at an activity level that helps you achieve a healthy body weight.  By choosing protein sources to supply about 1/3 of your calories along with some fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, excess fat storage should be minimal. Dairy foods like yogurt, Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, milk, etc., can be valuable contributors of protein too. To get the most out of your protein intake, try to spread out the protein throughout the day especially at breakfast—often the meal people skip—which is a missed opportunity to enjoy so many delicious protein sources and kick start the muscle building process.

Below are some commonly eaten protein sources that can help to increase your protein intake:

 

Meats

Poultry

Seafood

Soy Products

Nuts and Seeds

Beans and Peas

Beef

Chicken

Catfish

Tofu/Bean Curd

Almonds

Bean Burger

Ham

Duck

Cod

Veggie Burgers

Cashews

Black

Lamb

Goose

Flounder

Tempeh

Walnuts

Black-eyed peas

Pork

Turkey

Haddock

TVP (textured vegetable protein)

Hazelnuts

Falafel

Veal

Eggs

Halibut

 

Peanuts

Kidney Beans

Bison

Giblets

Herring

 

Peanut butter/nut butters

Lentils

Rabbit

 

Mackerel

 

Pecans

Lima Beans

Liver

 

Pollack

 

Pistachios

Navy Beans

Roast Beef

 

Salmon

 

Pumpkin Seeds

Soy Beans

Venison

 

Sea bass

 

Sesame Seeds

Split Peas

 

 

Snapper

 

Sunflower Seeds

Pinto Beans

 

 

Swordfish

 

Filberts

White Beans

 

 

Trout

 

 

 

 

 

Tuna

 

 

 

 

 

Clams

 

 

 

 

 

Crab

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster

 

 

 

 

 

Crayfish

 

 

 

 

 

Mussels

 

 

 

 

 

Octopus

 

 

 

 

 

Scallops

 

 

 

 

 

Shrimp

 

 

 

 

 

Squid

 

 

 

 

 

Tuna

 

 

 

 

Source: ChooseMyPlate.gov/What Foods Are In the Protein Group?

Protein Needs Based on Calorie Needs by Gender Needs by Gender/Age/Activity Level*

 

Adult Males

Sedentary

Moderately

Active

Active

 

Adult Females

Sedentary

Moderately

Active

Active

 

Age

 

 

 

 

Age

 

 

 

 

21-30y

60g-210g

68g-236g

75g-263g

 

21-30y

48g-149g

53g-184g

60g-210g

 

31-50y

60g-210g

65g-228g

65g-228g

 

31-50y

45g-158g

50g-175g

55g-193g

 

50-70y

55g-193g

60g-210g

60g-210g

 

50-70y

40g-140g

45g-158g

53g-184g

 

> 70 y

50g-175g

55g-193g

55g-193g

 

> 70y

40g-140g

45g-158g

50g-175g

 

*Calculations based on RDAs and Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010