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How Much Protein Do You Need?

Protein supplies the building blocks for all the tissues and functions in your body. These building blocks, amino acids, are used to make new cells and all the enzymes and other chemicals your body requires to function. Your body uses 22 different amino acids, and nine of those must come from the food you eat. These are called the essential amino acids. Your body can make the remaining amino acids it needs from the essential nine.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is about 50 to 70 grams per day. Most foods contain protein, and it is easy to meet your protein requirements with a typical varied diet. For example, you would meet your daily requirement for protein if you ate two of cups each of beans and whole grains such as barley, brown rice or oatmeal, three ounces of tuna, and two glasses of milk or a vegetarian milk substitute. If you are not sure whether you eat enough protein, keep track by checking the labels of the foods you eat for a few days. You will probably find that you are getting plenty of protein without any special effort.

Protein deficiency is virtually unheard of in North America, since any reasonably varied diet will give you enough. Before you decide to follow a high-protein diet or take protein supplements, understand that your body cannot store excess protein. Your stomach acids and enzymes in the stomach and intestines break down proteins into amino acids which pass from the intestine into the bloodstream. If your body needs to build protein, your liver combines amino acids to form body proteins. Any unused protein is burned for energy or stored as fat, and this process can stress the kidneys or liver and may pull calcium out of bones.

Most plants contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. Vegetarians can get all the amino acids they need from whole grains and beans. The beans may contain only seven of the essential nine, but the grains will have the other two. You do not need to do special combinations at each meal to get "complete protein"; just eat a variety of  foods in your regular diet.

If you are an athlete or a heavy exerciser, read my report on Muscles and Diet

Checked 10/1/18

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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