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Are You Getting Enough Protein?

Protein is the major component of all of your body’s cells and it’s critical to make sure you’re getting enough. Recent research indicates that we may need more than previously thought. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for all adults is 0.37 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, or about 15 percent of your daily calories.

But you need more if you exercise, if you’re dieting, and as you age. One dramatic study of 855 people found that those who ate just the RDA of protein had alarming bone losses compared to those who ate more than the RDA. Those who ate the least protein lost the most bone mass—4 percent in four years. People who ate the most protein (about 20 percent of calories) had the smallest losses—less than 1.5 percent in four years, reported the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research in 2000. Although the study was done on older men and women, the results may be important for all adults.

“When you’re young, you need protein to build bone. After age 30, you need it to keep bone from being lost,” says Kathleen Tucker, associate professor of Nutritional Epidemiology at Tufts University. “Keeping bones strong is a life-long effort.”

𝘿𝙞𝙚𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙨, 𝙩𝙖𝙠𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙩𝙚: 𝙉𝙚𝙬 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙘𝙝 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙛𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙖 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙚𝙞𝙣-𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙨𝙚 𝙙𝙞𝙚𝙩 𝙢𝙖𝙮 𝙗𝙚 𝙚𝙨𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙖𝙡 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙬𝙚𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩 𝙡𝙤𝙨𝙨.

Protein helps maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss. That’s important because “losing muscle slows your resting metabolic rate—the speed at which your body burns calories. That makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight and lose fat,” says William Evans, director of the Nutrition, Metabolism, and Exercise Laboratory at the Donald W. Reynolds Center on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Many of us don’t get the RDA for protein. Roughly 25 percent of adults over age 20, and 40 percent of those age 70 and up, fall below it, according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, let alone eat enough to protect bones or muscle. And thin women, dieting women and elderly women—who are especially vulnerable to the ravages of bone and muscle loss—are notoriously low on protein. “Losing muscle causes older people to become weak and frail,” says Evans.

“It seems pretty clear that older adults may need more protein,” agrees dietitian Reed Mangels, nutrition advisor to the Vegetarian Resource Group and co-author of The Dietitian’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets. “Older vegetarians need to concentrate on eating protein-dense foods, such as legumes and soy.”

𝘽𝙖𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙣𝙚𝙬 𝙛𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙨, 𝙄 𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙢𝙤𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙮 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙡𝙙𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙙𝙪𝙡𝙩𝙨 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙚𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 20 𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙘𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙘𝙖𝙡𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙨, 𝙤𝙧 0.45-0.54 𝙜𝙧𝙖𝙢𝙨 𝙥𝙚𝙧 𝙥𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙛 𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙖𝙡 𝙗𝙤𝙙𝙮 𝙬𝙚𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩.

“Protein is not only essential in the body’s development but, just as important, in the maintenance of our body as we age. Plant proteins are the healthiest source of those proteins,” says Pat Mitchell, CEO of Svelte.

For what this means in real food, see below. If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, you may need even more. On an individual basis, you can use the following formula to figure out your protein needs.

𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝗠𝘂𝗰𝗵 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗶𝗻 𝗗𝗼 𝗬𝗼𝘂 𝗡𝗲𝗲𝗱?

You can figure out your own recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein. Just grab a calculator, and multiply your ideal weight by 0.37 grams of protein. So if your ideal weight is 150 pounds:

150 lb. x 0.37 grams protein = 56 grams of protein per day

But for active people and older adults, calculate 0.45–0.54 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you’re moderately active and your ideal weight is about 150:

150 lb. x 0.45 grams protein = 68 grams of protein

150 lb. x 0.54 grams protein = 81 grams of protein

This means you should get 68–81 grams of protein per day.

So, what does this mean in terms of real food? Because little protein comes from vegetables, you’ll need to be aware of other foods from which you can obtain the protein you need. By eating regularly from the foods on the list below, you’ll get more than enough. Remember, too, that combining several foods in one recipe makes it easier.

8 oz. milk/yogurt
8 grams protein

1 cup tempeh
31 grams protein

1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables
2 grams protein

1 cup cooked beans
16 gram protein

1/2 cup tofu
8 grams protein

1 large egg
7 grams protein

2 Tbs. peanut butter
8 grams protein

1 cup low-fat ricotta/cottage cheese
28 grams protein

1 oz. nuts
6 grams protein

1 cup regular trail mix
21 grams protein

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