This chart presents the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of protein for a variety of age categories:
|Infants||Up to 5 months |
5 months–1 year
|13 grams |
|Children||1–3 years |
|16 grams |
|Males||11–14 years |
|45 grams |
|Females||11–14 years |
|46 grams |
|Lactating||first 6 months |
second 6 months
|65 grams |
|*However, this chart does not take into account your size—and larger people tend to have greater protein requirements. The following calculation is a more popular method for calculating daily protein amongst most health professionals: |
Your weight in pounds multiplied by .36 to .50 = Daily protein requirement (in grams)
*Avid exercisers and athletes require even more. Check out Food Before, During, and After Exercise for more information.
Food for Thought
Keep in mind that pregnant or lactating women have increased protein requirements. Pregnant women need an additional 10 grams of protein a day, whereas breastfeeding women need 12 to 15 extra grams a day for the first six months.
Protein for the Day in a Blink of an Eye
The previous chart gave you a number; let's see how quickly 63 grams can translate into food. The following chart lists the protein content of commonly eaten foods.
|Protein Content of Common Foods|
|Grams of |
|Steak, sirloin||26||Peanuts (1 oz.)||7|
|Ground meat||20||Walnuts (1 oz.)||4|
|Hamburger||14||Peanut butter (2 TB.)||8|
|Bologna||10||Sesame seeds (1 oz.)||5|
|Hot dog||10||Sunflower seeds (1 oz.)||6|
|Venison||26||Flaxseeds (1 oz.)||6|
|Buffalo||13||Tofu (6 oz.)||12|
|Bacon (1 slice)||21||Soybeans (½ cup)||11|
|Ham||2||Soy milk (1 cup)||7|
|Turkey breast||26||Kidney beans (½ cup)||8|
|Roast beef||21||Lentils (½ cup)||9|
|Chicken, light||26||Chickpeas (½ cup)||10|
|Salmon||18||Split peas (½ cup)||8|
|Scallops||14||Tofu (5 oz.)||10|
|Oysters (2 oz.)||8||Oatmeal (1 cup)||6|
|Crab||13||Pasta (1 cup)||7|
|Cottage cheese (½ cup)||14||Brown rice (1 cup)||5|
|Cheddar cheese (1 oz.)||7||White rice (1 cup)||3|
|American cheese (1 oz.)||6||Whole-wheat bread||5|
|String cheese (1 oz.)||6|
|Mozzarella (1 oz.)||7|
|Goat cheese (1 oz.)||6|
|Jarlsberg cheese (1 oz.)||7|
|Blue cheese (1 oz.)||6|
|Whole milk (1 cup)||8|
|Skim milk (1 cup)||8|
|Low-fat plain yogurt (1 cup)||10|
|Low-fat fruit yogurt (1 cup)||10|
|Frozen yogurt (½cup)||3|
All are 3-ounce servings (approximately the size of a deck of cards) unless otherwise indicated. Source: 1996 First Databank.
You can imagine how quickly these numbers add up, especially because most people tend to eat much more than a 3-ounce serving in one shot.
Let's take a look at a typical day:
2 scrambled eggs
3 strips of bacon
2 slices of toast with margarine
Glass of milk
A big fat tuna salad sandwich (6 oz.)
2 slices of bread
Steak (6 oz.)
Some veggies and rice
Total protein = 137 grams (yikes!)
Food for Thought
Your leanest protein sources include turkey breasts, skin-less chicken breasts, egg whites, lean red meats, low-milk, low-fat cheese, beans and lentils, all seafood and fish, split peas, chickpeas, and tofu.
As mentioned earlier, people in industrialized countries don't have a problem meeting their protein requirements. In fact, as you can see, it's easy to exceed the amount you need because our society tends to focus on meat, fish, eggs, seafood, or dairy with almost every meal.
Should You Worry About Overeating Protein?
Well, maybe. The problem is that your body only uses what it needs. And the rest? Well, some protein may be used for energy, but most is just a lot of extra calories and usually not just protein calories. Many of these high-protein foods are also packaged with fat; therefore, excess calories, which can translate into weight gain, can be a major concern. Furthermore, filling up on enormous portions of animal protein might crowd out grains, fruits, and veggies, which would create “macro-nutrient chaos.”
Go ahead and determine your personal protein needs, and then adjust your meals accordingly. You might want to prepare smaller pieces of animal protein (about 3 ounces) and load a variety of veggies and grains onto your plate.
Food for Thought
Recent studies have shown that folks at risk for kidney stones would benefit from following a diet that was low to moderate in protein.
Also, watch out for “ high-protein” diets, which promise quick weight loss by encouraging large amounts of protein while severely limiting carbohydrate intake (no bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, cereal, and so on). You might lose weight, but not from any magical combination of “high protein/low carbohydrates.” One reason may be loss of water because the breakdown of excessive protein causes frequent urination. Another explanation may be that your total calories usually decrease when you're limited to high-protein foods. How much plain protein can you really eat?
Furthermore, these high-protein/low-carb eating plans can be unhealthy (unless you are clinically diagnosed with hyperinsulinemia by your physician). Your body cannot burn fat efficiently without adequate carbohydrates. As a result, you produce compounds called ketones, which can accumulate in the blood and leave you feeling dizzy, nauseous, fatigued, and headachy—and give you incredibly bad breath. What's more, excessive protein can also put an added strain on your kidneys. It's pretty ironic when the goal of losing weight should be to improve your health, not make it worse.