A month to change your heart: Day 17

The days of searching for protein only in the meat and dairy aisles are gone.   Now we see it in energy bars, in drinks and in cereals.  We all know that we need protein but how much do we need and why has it suddenly morphed into the most important nutrient in our diets? 

U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends that adults consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. This is known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

A female weighing 120 pounds X 0.36 = 43 grams of protein a day
A male weighing 180 pounds X 0.36 = 65 grams of protein

Consuming an adequate amount of protein is not too difficult. For your reference:

4 ounces of chicken equals about 32 grams of protein.
1 large egg = 6 grams of protein
8 ounce glass of skim milk = 8 grams of protein

But why do we need protein?  Protein primarily helps us to build new muscle. Muscles are important to us, especially as we age.  They allow us to walk, run, swim and dance.  They can dramatically improve our appearance, allowing us to look fit and not flabby.  As we age, we start losing muscle mass each year.  For some people, this might mean that we are slightly less active.  For others, less muscle can lead to falls which might result in a more dependent lifestyle.

As we get older, the RDA for protein might not be enough to stop you from losing muscle. Many researchers believe that this number is too low for older Americans.  Since older adults are not as efficient at utilizing protein as we were when we were younger, an individual who is 40 years of age or older might benefit from spacing their protein intake attempting to consume 20-30 grams of protein at each meal.  Moderately increasing the RDA may enhance muscle protein synthesis and it has no health risks. 

Animal sources of protein contain all of the essential amino acids which are the building blocks of protein but they also contribute the highest percentage of saturated fat and cholesterol to the American diet. Chicken, turkey and fish are the best source of animal protein because they are lower in saturated fat than beef, pork, veal and lamb. Portion size of even these lower saturated fat choices should be moderate (about 4 ounces) per meal. A serving size should look like a deck of cards. 

Fish is always a heart healthy choice. Fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines or bluefish are higher in fat than white fish such as flounder, halibut or cod, so in addition to being an excellent protein source, they also contribute a higher amount of the omega-3 fatty acids.  Eating fish twice a week is a great way to increase omega-3’s in your diet while lowering the saturated fats. 

Most vegetarian sources of protein do not contain all of the essential amino acids, but as long as you eat a varied diet, it is easy to obtain all of the nutrients your body needs. Even if you choose to not follow a totally vegetarian diet, choosing a meatless meal once or twice per week is a gift of health. A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread or a large green salad with beans or lentils counts!  One cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has virtually no saturated fat or sodium.




PROTEIN (grams)

Chicken, turkey or fish

4 ounces


Greek Yogurt-plain

8 ounces


Cottage Cheese (low-fat or fat free)

8 ounces


Cheese (low fat or skim)

1 ounce


Black Beans

1 1/2 cups



1 1/2 cups



1 cup


Peanut Butter

2 Tablespoons



1 ounce



1 cup cooked


Milk (skim)

8 ounces


Egg Whites

5 whites


One whole egg

1 egg



½ cup


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