Protein is essential to keeping your body healthy—but are you getting enough of it? According to the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, not all adults are.
In one study, researchers found that as many as 46% of their oldest participants weren’t getting enough protein on a regular basis. In fact, these participants were missing around 30 grams of protein daily and, since many popular foods aren’t high in protein, many people may struggle to close that gap.
If, for example, you find yourself reaching for low-protein breakfast foods—such as cereal, toast, or instant oatmeal—as you make your way out the door in the morning, being more mindful of your protein intake may help you get the amount of protein your body needs for optimal health.
Why Is Protein Important?
First, let’s look at why you need protein in your diet.
Protein is one of the primary building blocks of the human body, which, amazingly, contains more than 10,000 types of proteins. Your organs, tissues, muscle, skin, and hair are all comprised of these proteins.
- Transports energy throughout the body
- Carries oxygen through your bloodstream
- Creates antibodies, which fight illness and infection, develops new cells, and repairs older ones
Protein also helps you stay full between meals. People who don’t get enough protein may find themselves snacking more because their body isn’t getting enough nutrients.
Having a diet high in protein can also support weight maintenance and healthy skin, nails, and hair.
How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?
Whether you’ve used protein bars, powders, or shakes, it’s likely you’ve tried to increase your protein intake at some point. While not getting enough protein in your diet can lead to health issues, more isn’t always better.
WebMD provides the following set of guidelines as a good rule of thumb:
- For adult women = 46 grams daily
- For adult men = 56 grams daily
You can also use an online calculator, which takes into account your weight, activity level, and goals, to determine how much protein you need.
If you want to track your protein intake based on a percentage of calories, aim to get 10%-35% of your calories from protein. For a 2,000-calorie diet, this percentage means you’ll need to eat between 200 and 700 calories of protein each day.
What Happens When You Don’t Get the Right Amount of Protein?
Getting too much or too little protein can dramatically impact your health. Here are the symptoms to look out for if you think you’re overeating or undereating protein.
Not getting enough protein can result in a slew of negative symptoms. Since consuming the right amount of protein supports muscle growth, an insufficient intake of protein can cause muscle weakness and loss.
Other symptoms of protein deficiency include:
- Issues with hair, nails, and skin
- Taking longer to heal from injuries
- Feeling overly hungry and tired
- Experiencing fluctuations in mood
- Getting sick more frequently or staying sick longer
Too Much Protein
Having too much protein in your diet, however, isn’t necessarily beneficial to your health. While many people struggle to eat more protein, athletes such as powerlifters or bodybuilders sometimes over-consume it.
While their bodies may store this excess protein as fat, there’s also a chance it will create a waste product build-up that impacts their health.
Over time, excess protein consumption could potentially lead to:
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Kidney stones
- Uric acid
To avoid these health issues, consider limiting your intake to the recommended dietary amount of protein for your size and activity level.
What Are the Best Sources of Protein?
As you begin thinking about increasing or decreasing protein in your diet, we wanted to share some healthy sources of protein with you.
Vegetable Sources of Protein
When you think of protein, you may think of meat; but if you don’t eat meat, there are plenty of plant-based, non-traditional sources of protein you can add to your diet:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Beans with rice
- Protein-rich vegetables
- Sprouted bread (such as Food for Life’s Ezekiel Bread)
Animal Sources of Protein
If you do eat meat, there are, of course, animal-based sources of protein, including:
- Lean beef
- Turkey breast
- Wild salmon
- Greek yogurt
Protein powders or other supplements can also help you reach your protein goals. Many of these supplements come in both animal-based and vegan forms.
The Bottom Line
Protein is an essential component of a balanced diet.
Once you determine how much protein you need to eat, you can start to think about how you can hit your protein goals each day in a way that supports your health and fitness goals. Use this information to plan your meals, snacks, and any other supplements you need.
Looking to create healthier habits in your life? An Arootah coach can support you in making positive changes by identifying your challenges and helping you address them through self-accountability.
Do you think you’re getting enough protein? What are your favorite sources of protein you include in your diet? Discuss in the comments!