A beginner’s guide to protein

Are you getting the right amount of protein?

Many Americans think that they do not consume enough protein each day, but the majority are actually consuming more than the amount the body requires.

Protein is found in a variety of foods that we eat. Animal sources include meat, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese, while plant sources include nuts, seeds and legumes (beans/peas). When we consume these foods, the protein is broken down into amino acids, which help repair our muscles and cells.

How much protein should I consume?

Below is the National Dietary Allowance for protein needs:

Children 1- to 3-years-old 13 grams/day
Children 4- to 8-years-old 19 grams/day
Children 9- to 13-years-old 34 grams/day
Girls 14- to 18-years-old 46 grams/day
Boys 14- to 18-years-old 52 grams/day
Women age 19 and older 46 grams/day
Men age 19 and older 56 grams/day

What types of protein are the best?

When choosing what protein foods to eat, maintaining a variety is important. Animal products are good sources of protein because they include all of the essential amino acids.  Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and therefore must be eaten. Leaner options include skinless chicken, turkey, venison, lean beef, eggs and fish. There are many plant sources of protein available also. Soybeans and quinoa contain all of the essential amino acids. Other sources that contain some essential amino acids include peanut butter, nuts and beans.


1 cup of milk 8 grams protein
3 oz meat 21 grams protein
1 cup beans 16 grams protein
1 cup quinoa 24 grams protein

What does too much protein do?

As with most things in excess, eating too much protein can have side effects on the body. Too much protein consumption can contribute to extra calories that can lead to weight gain. If a lot of that extra protein is coming from animal products, you could also be consuming too much saturated fat that could contribute to heart disease.

Michigan State University Extension provides nutrition education programs to youth and adults that discuss options for lean protein consumption. To find a class or additional educational materials please visit http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/food_health.

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