Protein, the Trendy Macronutrient

July 10, 2018 in Foodland Chronicles, Health, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

If you glance at the banners touting high protein on the front of packages, and see protein bars, shakes and powders at check out counters you may start to worry that you need to increase your protein intake. Not so! This is just hype to sell way more than you need. The fact is that getting enough protein is not hard for most Americans. As a matter of fact most of us are getting more than we need (about 100 grams a day); 100 grams is just about double what most of us need. The surveys and calculations that this information is based upon, were done before the new swing into protein-heavy Keto eating, which has very likely driven the average protein intake even higher. One of the issues announced by the last Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015 was that males 14-70 years of age were often getting more protein than they need. The numbers are even more exaggerated for athletes (those not taking protein supplements) because they consume more calories; more calories generally translate to more protein. Certainly, the addition of supplements would just drive the protein intake up even higher.

The important issue for all to understand that it is true — protein is used for many needs of the body. We all know muscles are primarily protein; but don’t forget to list the hair on your head; the blood in your veins; the antibodies your body builds to keep you healthy, and don’t forget the enzymes that make important things happen and, well, protein is the main ingredient in all the cells of your body. Protein eaten and not needed for cell building is used for energy; we don’t store protein for tomorrow’s needs. If you don’t need the energy, you store it as fat. Some seem to have the idea that they can consume a steak (It often looks like a whole roast on a plate.) and that will equate to bigger muscles. Although you need adequate protein to build muscles; the fact is that surplus protein is not what makes the difference in muscle building; extra strength training is the element that builds muscles.

As long as you don’t have kidney or liver disorders, or osteoporosis, you should be able to eat extra protein without damaging your body; unless, of course, you’re choosing high-protein foods that are also high in total fat and saturated fat. Regrettably, this is easy to do, especially if you eat much animal protein. Unfortunately, that may lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other problems.

If you want to know, fairly precisely how much protein to eat, simply multiply your weight in kilograms (pounds divided by 2.2) by .8 (factor – result is in grams) if you’re sedentary. This little calculation will give you the number of grams of protein you need in a day. For example, if you weighed 165lbs, divide by 2.2 and get 75 kg. Then multiply that by the factor of .8 and you only need 60 grams of protein a day. You can see how easy it is to get to sixty grams if you get about 27g from a 3 oz. serving of meat (meat the size of a deck of playing cards) As we age (beginning 45-50 years old), we begin losing muscle mass. So we should use a factor of 1 if you’re past that age. There is some disagreement about needing extra protein based on exercise; but the difference is not so great. If you exercise regularly, you may use a factor of 1.3 and if you were training for a running or cycling event, you might use 1.5. If you were overweight, you would use your ideal weight, multiplied by the factor for your age and activity. And if you want to make it even easier, use the USDA’s calculator at .

Since it is scientifically established knowledge that you can get enough protein even if you’re a vegan (no animal products); then you realize that all the protein that you count does not need to be from animals. You can get high quality protein from whole grains, vegetables, legumes/beans, nuts, and seeds. Aim for protein sources that are low in processed carbohydrates and saturated fats. While it is true that there are amino acids that must be eaten in food; you can get them all from plant foods. The super easy way to get them all, if you’re not a vegan, is to eat some animal sources of protein (egg, milk and yogurt, poultry, fish, meat). But if you’re a strict vegan, you can still get all the essential amino acids by consuming plant sources. If sometime during a day, a vegan consumes a variety of protein foods, some legumes/beans and some grains they will be able to be healthy and supply all the protein/essential amino acids that the body needs. This information should also help all to realize that our protein intake benefits from all the grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables we consume.

If you calculate how much protein you need each day, you will probably discover that you don’t need the steak (roast on a plate) in order to keep yourself well nourished. If you want an easy way to approximate a 3-ounce serving of cooked meat, just think of a standard deck of cards; that’s about 21 grams of protein. Six ounces (about ¾ cup) of Greek yogurt provides about 17 grams of protein. One cup of cooked pasta supplies about 8 grams of protein. You may be surprised how easy it is to get to say 70 grams a day.

Having shared all the above information about how easy it is to get enough protein, I must admit what got me to thinking about protein intake to begin with. In less than a week, I had two encounters with friends who are not getting enough protein. So yes, it can happen. Both of the individuals are females. One has Alzheimer’s disease. Her family is struggling because she has lost her appetite, as a result of medication. She’s eating things like cookies, cakes and Otter Pops (popsicle with sugar). Certainly, these items are not going to provide enough protein and the first germ that she comes in contact with will give her a challenge. The other lady is recently widowed and has lost her appetite as a result of grief. Her family and friends are worried about her fragility; she was already very thin before the death of her husband when further weight loss started. It is challenging to try to encourage a person who has lost her appetite (anorexia) to understand the importance of eating and getting protein specifically. Situations like these may be made easier with the help of a Registered Dietitian. I helped in these two situations in trying to share ways to enhance their protein intake, in addition to them getting sufficient calories from a balanced diet.

By far, on a population-wide basis, the greater problem is over nutrition. But our culture starts out with too many calories (too many of those calories empty of nutrients, like sugary drinks) and too much protein; but it doesn’t hurt to take a little survey of our own intake to be sure that we’re doing a good job for our body. Trendy or not, by far the majority of us can skip the protein shakes, bars and powders. Regular, good old-fashioned food, especially plants, can do a perfect job.