How Much Protein Do You Really Need To Eat?

Photographed by Eric Helgas.
Every healthy diet requires a variety of foods from all food groups, and one of the most essential is protein.

Proteins make up our skin, hair, nails, internal organs, and muscles, explains Erica Leon, RDN. They also enable chemical reactions in our bodies, like the breaking down of food and the transportation of oxygen through the blood. But exactly how much protein do you have to eat to maintain these functions?

The amount of protein you need depends a lot on what your day looks like, says Leon. Athletes and people who are breastfeeding, for example, need much more than the average person. In general, though, a sedentary person will need about 0.36 grams of protein a day for each pound they weigh. So, the average American woman, who weighs 166.2 pounds, would need about 60 grams.

You might be surprised by how easily that can be accomplished, says Leon. You can get about 45 grams just from a large tuna sandwich, a salmon dish from a restaurant, or a cup of yogurt and a small chicken breast.

That doesn't make getting enough protein less essential, though. If you don't, your muscles will deteriorate, and your cells won't be able to carry out their day-to-day jobs, says Leon. As she put it, "Lack of protein is not compatible with life."

The most protein-packed foods are meat, seafood, and dairy, which contain about 8 grams of protein per ounce. But getting enough protein as a vegetarian is totally doable. Eggs, tofu, beans, seeds, and nuts all have plenty. If you're not able to get your necessary protein intake from food, protein powders are also an option.

So, be skeptical of any dietary advice that suggests consuming a huge amount of protein. A little bit of it goes a long way, and fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get it.
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