How Much Protein Do You Need?

Your body needs protein to make and repair your cells. We know muscles are made of protein, and your hair, eyes, and fingernails are too! If you get hurt, or just when you grow bigger and stronger, protein is needed to put the building blocks of you together!

Protein can also help your body:

  • Fight infection
  • Build and contract muscles
  • Clot blood, which makes a cut stop bleeding.

Foods that Contain Protein:

Both animal and plant foods contain protein. Some sources are healthier than others. Rich protein foods can have a lot of fat in them too, and we want to limit them so a sometimes food group:

  • Meats and poultry: bacon, fried chicken, hot dogs, lunch meats, sausage and ribs
  • Fish and shellfish: breaded and fried fish sticks, fried calamari, and other fried fish.
  • Whole-fat dairy: whole milk and other whole-fat dairy foods.

Other protein foods are lean sources of protein are considered heart-healthy. They don’t have a lot of fat in them  Here are some lean protein food options:

  • Meat, poultry and eggs: lean cuts of beef, pork loin, skinless chicken and turkey
  • Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods: yogurt, milk, cheese, cottage cheese
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, soy, peanut butter
  • Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds

Getting the Right Amount of Protein

MyPlate includes general protein recommendations for people age 2 and older.

AgeSexDaily Protein Recommendation
2-3 yearsFemale and male2-ounce equivalents
4-8 yearsFemale and male4-ounce equivalents
9-13 yearsFemale and male5-ounce equivalents
14-18 yearsFemale5-ounce equivalents
14-18 yearsMale6½ ounce equivalents

How much is one ounce? Its about the size of one egg… Can you imagine an egg in your hand?

Usually we eat more than a one egg sized serving of protein though. If I make a peanut butter sandwich, I put more than one tablespoon of peanut butter on my two pieces of bread…

Look at Barbara’s menu for a day, and find all the protein servings she has!

  • Breakfast
    • Scrambled eggs with tomato slices
      • 2 eggs scrambled = 2 ounces of protein
      • ½ beefsteak tomato
    • Whole-grain toast
      • 2 slices with ½ teaspoon butter
    • Coffee or tea
  • Lunch
    • Peanut butter and banana on whole-grain bread, 1 tablespoon peanut butter = 1 ounce of protein
    • Carrot, sticks ½ cup
    • Milk,1 cup, low fat
  • Dinner
    • Baked salmon, 3 ounce piece of salmon = 3 ounces of protein
    • Cheesy steamed spinach
      • 2 cups fresh spinach
      • ⅓ cup low fat cheese
    • Bulgur, ½ cooked with ½ teaspoon olive oil
  • Snack
    • Cheese and celery sticks
      • Low-fat cheddar or Swiss cheese, 1½ ounces 
      • Celery sticks, ½ cup 

Did Barbara get enough protein today? What other food groups did she eat?

Abridged from eatright.org by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD Published May 28, 2019, Reviewed April 2019

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