Protein is vital to many aspects of health. In addition to its structural, mechanical and transport roles in the body, protein helps maintains fluid balance and pH levels, and is required to form hormones, enzymes and antibodies. It’s easy to get carried away with the notion of “a little is good, a lot is better” when it comes to protein intake. But the truth is that excess calories, regardless if they come from fat, carbohydrates or protein, will be stored as fat tissue and can contribute to weight gain.
Recommended Protein Intake
For most adults, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for daily protein intake is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The requirement differs depending on an individual’s life stage, health status and even physical stress. Athletes who train on a regular basis benefit from levels of protein 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram of body weight based on muscle cell turnover and repair.
Applying the standard 0.8 grams of protein daily requirement, the average 154-pound male would need about 56 grams/day and a 125-pound female would require about 46 grams/day. According to a national health survey, men consume an average of 101.9 grams/day, while women are taking in an average of 70.1 grams/day (Fulgoni, 2008). Based on these statistics, the average American consumes much more protein than they actually need. Therefore, it’s likely that most individuals, even elite athletes, can easily meet their requirements by simply consuming a healthful diet- without necessitating the use of protein supplementation.
Aside from common animal-based proteins such as meat, fish, poultry, cheese and eggs, several plant-based proteins offer low-fat alternatives:
Plant Protein Examples
Source Serving Size Protein (grams)
Tempeh 1 cup 31 g
Buckwheat 1 cup 23 g
Seitan 3 ounces 18 g
Lentils 1 cup (cooked) 18 g
Edamame 1 cup 17 g
Black Beans 1 cup (cooked) 15 g
Quinoa 1 cup (cooked) 8 g
Plant-based proteins can be easily incorporated into meals. For example, quinoa and buckwheat can be served in place of traditional sides such as potatoes or rice; they also can serve as a protein-packed breakfast cereal. Beans and lentils are great protein additions to toss in soups and salads. Other plant-based proteins such as tempeh, seitan and tofu can be cooked as you would meat (broiled, baked, grilled or sautéed) and enjoyed a number of ways.
Quick Seitan Stir-Fry
Seitan is a wheat-based product that’s a great source of lean protein. You can find it at your local health food store.
- 2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
- 4 oz. seitan
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup canned water chesnuts, drained and sliced
Heat oil in a wok or large skillet, add garlic and green onion. Sauté about 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients stirring occasionally for the next 8-10 minutes.
Nutritional Information: 295 Calories, 29 g Protein, 11 g Fat, 20 g Carbohydrates
It’s clear that protein supports a multitude of vital functions in the body and is needed in various amounts depending on your stage of life and health circumstances. However, it’s important to keep in perspective that your health status can be affected by a variety other factors, including lack of exercise, smoking, too little sleep, etc. Pursuing an overall healthy lifestyle that includes a balance of these factors may go much further in your pursuit of better health.
Fulgoni, V. (2008). Current protein intake in America: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87, 5, 1554S-1557S.
Author: Gina Crome
Health and Fitness Expert
Gina Crome is a registered dietitian and ACE Certified Professional. Her career promoting healthy lifestyles developed after losing 172 pounds on her own. For 20 years, Gina's mission has focused on guiding individuals toward a better quality of life. She holds a master's degree in clinical psychology as well as a master's of public health in nutrition from Loma Linda University.