What’s the Buzz: Protein

By: Danielle Yakovetz Last Updated: January 21, 2010

Protein is an essential nutrient that is important to good health. It is used by our bodies to produce and grow muscles, hair, nails, skin and internal organs. Proteins used for synthesis within the body are comprised of amino acids, many of which the body cannot produce on its own. We therefore must ingest protein to supplement the body's amino acid production to enable us to grow, heal, and function normally.

The great thing about protein is that it's not only delicious and nutritious, but easy to get in a variety of forms! Everyone knows that meat contains protein, but so do dairy products, nuts, legumes, and other sources.

Foods that are high in protein:
Meat, fish (including canned tuna)
Eggs or egg substitute
Milk
Yogurt
Cheese (including cottage cheese)
Beans
Soy
Nuts (including peanut butter)
Seeds
Lentils (including peas and chickpeas)
Tofu
Wheat germ or wheat gluten, as contained in--
*Some whole-wheat pastas (check label, look for at least 10g protein per 1 cup serving)
*Some cereals (check label, look for at least 5g protein per serving)

Surprisingly, even though the list above is rather specific, most people consume adequete amounts of protein in their regular diet. The body just doesn't need much to meet it's requirements. In fact, most Americans consume more than enough protein daily. Only a few specific groups of people are at risk for being protein-deficient, including elderly women and people with illnesses or eating disorders. Protein should make up approximately 10-15% of your total daily caloric intake, according to the recommended daily allowances (RDA) set by the Food and Nutrition Board, with the other 85% coming from fat and carbs (15% and 70% respectively). Ideally, one should consume 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight, meaning someone who weighs 120lbs should consume about 43 grams of protein per day and someone weighing 180 lbs needs roughly 64 grams of protein per day unless otherwise advised by a physician. Consuming more than 30% of your daily calories from protein can have adverse effects on the body, as the relative reduction of carbohydrates can cause it to enter a canabalistic state known as "ketosis." Excess protein consumption is especially a concern due to the fact that most sources of animal-protein (meat and dairy) are high in unhealthy saturated fat.

Someone who is having trouble meeting the recommended daily allowance for protein through their regular diet might consider drinking protein shakes, such as the following recipe:

Banana/Peanut Butter Shake (12 grams protein)
8 ounces fat-free milk
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1/4 - 1/2 banana

Blend until smooth in blender.

Protein powders can also be used as an additive to any smoothie/shake-type recipe to boost protein content. A simple alternative is to purchase ready-made meal replacement drinks, such as Ensure, Boost, or SlimFast (check label, look for at least 9-10 grams of protein per 8oz serving). However, remember that these are meant to be meal "replacement" drinks--they are quite high in calories and are NOT intended to supplement your regular meals!