When you hear the word protein, is the first image that pops to mind a piece of steak or chicken? Are you wondering how much protein you need each day, or are you an older adult wondering if protein needs change as you age? Well… read on to get answers to these questions and learn more about this mighty nutrient.
What’s so important about protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient that helps with things like: muscle growth and repair and keeping your skin and nails strong and healthy. Foods high in protein are called protein-rich foods. Including protein-rich foods as part of a balanced diet also helps you feel satisfied longer after a meal.
How much protein do I need?
If you’re 19 years of age or older, the recommended protein need is about 0.8 g for each kilogram of body weight. On average, an adult man (weighing 68 kgs) needs about 56 g of protein each day while an adult female (weighing 60 kgs) needs approximately 46 g of protein each day. This recommendation includes those who are generally active (who do about one hour of activity per day) and applies for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Protein needs are different for people who are highly activity and at certain life stages. Endurance athletes or strength training athletes (those who exercise for more than one hour per day) may need as much as 1.5 to 2 times the protein that an average person needs. Protein needs are also different for children and women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Call 8-1-1, Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm, to speak with a registered dietitian from HealthLink BC to learn more about recommendations for these individuals.
What foods are protein-rich? And how can I meet my daily needs?
Protein-rich foods include more than just meat and poultry. Many other healthy foods like beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, tofu, fish, milk, fortified unsweetened soy beverage, eggs, cheese and unsweetened yogurt are also good sources of protein. Vegetables, fruits and grain products also provide a small amount of protein.
As you can see, a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods can meet your protein needs. You can follow recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide to help you meet these and other nutrition needs. If you want more personalized information, try monitoring your protein intake by using a food tracking app, like EaTracker from Dietitians of Canada. You’ll also be able to track other nutrients like sodium, fibre and fat.
Here are some easy meal and snack ideas to add protein-rich foods into your diet:
- Prepare an overnight muesli that includes nuts, seeds, milk or fortified unsweetened soy beverage and unsweetened yogurt
- Enjoy hummus with a slice of toasted whole grain bread
- Try this crowd pleasing vegetarian chili for dinner this week
- Enjoy a serving (1.5 ounces or the equivalent of four dice stacked together) of low fat cheese and whole grain crackers as a snack
- Try steamed egg white with tofu served with quinoa
Is protein intake a concern for seniors?
Protein is especially important for seniors since aging is associated with muscle loss. Maintaining muscle strength helps prevent falls and fractures. You can build muscle by eating regular meals with adequate amounts of protein and doing resistance exercises. Learn more about healthy eating for seniors from this handbook and the Aging Well online resource.
I want to build muscle, should I try protein powder?
Protein powder has not been proven to be more effective than eating a balanced diet for gaining muscle. You can easily get the protein you need from food sources. Food sources also provide other nutrients like fibre, iron, vitamin D or calcium. If you decide to use protein powder, choose protein powder that contains high quality protein such as whey, casein or soy. High quality protein means that the protein has the amino acids (building blocks of protein) that our bodies need. Whey, casein and soy are also found in dairy and soy products.