Protein is an important part of the diet. When we eat protein, it gets broken down into amino acids which the body uses as building blocks to make new proteins that the body needs to grow or maintain itself. Protein is found throughout the body including hair, muscle, and blood.
Meats such as beef, lamb, and pork are good sources of protein. However, poultry and fish are also excellent sources with less fat. Eggs and dairy are another alternative for protein. Protein does not need to come from just animal sources. Protein can be found in nuts and seeds, whole grains like whole wheat bread or brown rice, or legumes like beans, lentils, and peas. The advantage of consuming protein from vegetable sources is that there is no cholesterol.
Most people actually eat more protein than they need. The amount of protein that a person needs depends on age and activity level. Toddlers only need about 13 grams (gm) of protein per day. Children who are 4-8 years old need 19 gm. Children who are 9-13 years old need 34 gm. Females who are fourteen years old and older need about 46 gm. Pregnant and lactating women should have 71 gm. Males who are fourteen years old and older need 52-56 gm.
For comparison, a hard-boiled egg has 6 gm of protein, and one 8-oz. glass of fat-free milk has 10 gm. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 8 gm. Three ounces of tofu or about one third of a cup has 7.5 gm. A 3-oz chicken breast is the same size as a deck of cards and has about 30 gm. A similar size piece of salmon has 21 gm while the same amount of beef has 27 gm. Keep in mind that portion sizes are often at least two or three times the sizes listed here which means that one meal may provide more protein than the body needs for the entire day.
Eating too much protein can be harmful to the body. Extra protein is not stored as muscle. The body turns any extra protein into fat which leads to weight gain and obesity. While meat may be a good source of protein, meat also contains a large amount of fat. Trimming away the fat or skin will help reduce extra calories and the unhealthy effects of fat consumption. A healthy diet should emphasize a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables with a limited amount of meat, poultry, and fish.