The Protein Sweet Spot
A healthy diet is not just about eating the required amount of calories; it should also be carefully balanced between carbohydrates, protein and fat, along with essential vitamins and minerals. When we are young and active, we need more calories than when we are older and perhaps more sedentary. For example, according to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women under the age of 40 need approximately 2000 calories per day while those who are 40-59 need around 1800 calories, getting progressively less with age. Men generally need about 400-600 calories more than women within the same age group.
Protein should take up anything from 10-35% of the total calories eaten, if you are a normal healthy adult. Our varied dietary requirements are influenced by culture and what is available, so the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations allow for a wide range of protein requirements within those calorie figures.
The recommended amount set by the RDA is 50 to 100 grams (1.75 to 3.5 ounces) of protein per day, which is not a very large portion.
Why We Need Protein
Protein is important even if you are on a diet and want to lose weight. Eating protein makes you feel full so you can fight hunger pangs and shed unwanted pounds. However, you need to eat the right kind of protein. Even if you are a vegetarian, your body needs protein to grow and repair the body.
Seafood is a good source of protein as it is lower in fat than other sources. Salmon and oily fish are higher in fat content and calories, but it is heart-healthy fat and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
When eating poultry, the white meat is the leanest. The skin is very high in saturated fat, so remove it before cooking. Beef and pork are traditionally thought to be higher in fat than poultry, but pork tenderloin is a very lean cut and lean beef is only slightly higher in fat than chicken and in addition it provides zinc, iron and B12 for energy.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are a good source of protein and provide calcium for healthy bones and teeth. Low-fat or skimmed options are best as they are lower in fat and still have just as much goodness. Eggs are cheap and although high in cholesterol, the British Heart Foundation says that healthy adults can enjoy eggs as a regular part of their diet.
Beans are another good source of protein; in fact, half a cup of beans has the equivalent protein of three ounces of steak. In addition, beans are high in fiber and, as they are digested slowly, they ward off hunger pangs.
Finally, keep a supply of meal replacement drinks or high protein energy bars as snacks for when you need a meal quickly. Choose one that has at least 6g of protein and is low in sugar, fat and overall calories to provide you with long-lasting satisfaction from hunger.