How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Getting enough protein in our diet

Protein is an extremely important part of a balanced diet. Our body needs it to repair cells, build muscles, and more. However, with all the hype around this macronutrient, you may worry that you’re not getting enough of it. But the truth is that most Americans naturally eat enough of it without even thinking about it—and, in fact, consuming too much of it can lead to undesirable results you may not be aware of.

Do you know how much protein you should actually be getting every day? It comes down to a combination of factors like your age and activity level. However, a general recommendation is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight each day.  That means if you weight 150 lbs, you should be eating 54 grams each day. Aim to make sure it makes up 10-35% of your daily calorie intake—that means about 1/4 of your plate should be protein.

It’s important to get enough protein each day so that your body can properly grow and repair itself. We use it to build muscles, tissues, enzymes, DNA, immune cells, and more. While we don’t usually use it directly for energy, our bodies may turn to this macronutrient if it’s lacking carbohydrates. If you skimp on protein, you’ll likely feel fatigued, and over time, eating too little  can lead to loss of muscle, increased risk of fractures, and impaired immunity. In extreme cases, this can lead to a type of severe malnutrition that may result in edema, liver disease, and stunted growth.

However, balance is always key—which means that on the other end of things, eating too much of it can lead to its own share of health consequences.

Too Much Protein Can Turn Into Body Fat

Despite what you may have been led to believe,  most Americans are getting plenty of protein in their diets, so there’s generally no need to stress over not getting enough of it. In fact, it’s possible to eat too much protein, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and other health issues.

Protein doesn’t automatically turn into muscle after we eat it. Once our bodies take care of growth and repair needs, excess protein is turned into glucose (carbs) and used for energy.  Once your body gets all of the energy it needs from those carbs, the extra unused protein you consume will be turned into body fat and stored for later. Eating a very high-protein diet long term can be taxing on the kidneys and has even been linked to a higher risk of kidney disease. Yikes!

Jenn LaVardera, MS, RD, CDN of Daily Harvest

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