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EAT: What’s The Right Amount Of Protein?

It is a well-known fact that protein can do great things for our bodies. Protein can help us feel fuller longer, prevent cravings, help with weight management, help the body build muscle, and more.

According to research, our diet should include 10 to 35 percent of protein, which comes from foods like meat, poultry, fish, and legumes. National guidelines advise that people ages 18 and older should consume 0.36 grams of protein daily for every pound they weigh. What does that look like? Someone who weighs 150 pounds needs about 54 grams of protein, equivalent to six ounces of cooked chicken breast. Who knew a little chicken could go such a long way? However, extremely active people like marathoners or professional athletes, should gobble down more protein to keep up with their fast metabolisms.

As with anything else, there are risks to consuming too much of a good thing; a diet of green eggs and ham alone doesn’t do much towards building the insta-muscles many people believe it does. Eating protein without pumpin’ iron won’t build body muscle; it will simply put your body into a catabolic (and dangerous) state called ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose for energy. Stored fats are broken down, resulting in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body. Some people encourage ketosis by following a diet called the ketogenic or low-carb diet. High protein intake often goes hand in hand with skimping out on carbs. Lack of carbohydrates can lead to insufficient fiber, potentially causing constipation and more extreme health conditions such as diverticulitis.

There are definite health dangers to going after the “Schwarzenegger” look with an all-protein diet. First, our bodies can’t store excess protein, so once it’s broken down into amino acids, the kidneys excrete the nitrogen (waste) content. And the more protein we chow down, the harder the kidneys have to work to remove the waste. Studies suggest people with kidney disease should limit their protein intake (speak with your health care provider before limiting your protein).

But don’t toss away all the eggs and bacon just yet, not getting enough protein has its risks too. An insufficient amount of protein can lead to - under-nutrition, which may result in extreme weight loss, fatigue, or diarrhea. It is best to get most protein from plant sources like beans, legumes, nuts, and soy products to steer clear of excess cholesterol. Skip the pork (we know bacon is heavenly, but still), and opt for lean meats like turkey, chicken, and seafood. Finding a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fats is important to a healthy lifestyle.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Health problems can result from consuming too much or too little of any food group. If you’re interested in learning more about protein and other nutrition, don’t miss NMCSD’s Health & Wellness classes like Healthy Weigh, New Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Shopping Tour, and more!