By Brierley Wright, August 21, 2013 - 3:09pm
Protein is a must-have nutrient: your body uses it to generate and repair cells. And the building blocks of protein—called amino acids—are needed to build muscle, make antibodies and keep your immune system going. Compared to fat and carbs, protein packs a bigger punch when it comes to filling you up and keeping you satisfied.
But don’t worry that you’re not getting enough of this powerhouse nutrient. Protein malnutrition is nearly nonexistent in the U.S. In fact, most of us eat more than we need: women get, on average, 69 grams of protein per day. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends women get 46 grams daily (that’s equal to about 6 ounces of chicken). Men need 56 grams, yet they’re actually eating almost double.
There’s no official daily maximum for protein, but IOM suggests capping it at 35 percent of your calories (that’s 175 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet). Heed that advice for a few reasons: High-protein diets usually promote foods that deliver unhealthy saturated fat (meat, cheese). Eating too much protein may also increase your chances of kidney stones, as well as your risk of osteoporosis. (When protein is digested, it releases acid that is neutralized by calcium, which is pulled from your bones.) In one study, women who ate more than 95 grams of protein a day were 20 percent more likely to fracture their forearm than those who got less than 68 grams daily.
Bottom line: It’s possible to eat too much protein, so don’t go overboard. Choose healthy proteins—lean meat, poultry, low-fat dairy, fish, soybeans, quinoa. Beans, peas, nuts and seeds also supply protein, but they’re “incomplete” (lack at least one essential amino acid), so eat a variety of those.