Protein: the beginners guide

Are you eating enough protein?

Most Americans believe they do not consume enough protein throughout the day, but really the majority are consuming more than enough. Protein is found in animal products such as meat, eggs, milk and cheese. Protein can also be found in 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 ages 1-3 13 grams/day
Children ages 4-8 19 grams/day
Children ages 9-13 34 grams/day
Girls ages 14-18 46 grams/day
Boys ages 14-18 52 grams/day
Women ages 19-70 46 grams/day
Men ages 19-70 56 grams/day

What types of protein are the best?

When choosing what protein foods to eat, those found in animal sources are key. Some animal proteins include eggs and meat. This is because they include all of the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, therefore they must come from the foods we eat.

Lean meats are a better option due to the fat content in most meats. Lean meats include; skinless chicken and turkey, venison, salmon and cod.

What if I do not eat animal products?

If you are a vegan, there are alternative protein options available. Soybeans and quinoa contain all of the essential amino acids. Other sources that contain some essential amino acids include peanut butter, nuts and beans.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examples:

1 cup of milk 8 grams protein
3 ounces meat 21 grams protein
1 cup beans 16 grams protein
1 cup quinoa 24 grams protein
1 egg 6 grams protein

What does too much protein do?

Most people do not get harmful effects if they eat too much protein. But, too much protein consumption can add calories to your intake and this could contribute to weight gain. If you are eating a large amount of animal proteins (ground beef, eggs, poultry w/ skin), this could contribute to heart disease. Animal products contain high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol. Also, individuals with kidney disease need to watch their protein consumption because it can impede kidney function.

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:

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