Meeting Protein Needs Simply by Eating
Imagine running into a friend at the gym who was just finishing her aerobic workout. Sweaty and flushed, she downs a bottle of water and remarks, “Got to get my hydrogen!” While we may instinctively sense that there is something odd about that statement, in Western countries, and particularly the U.S., people make very similar comments on a regular basis. “Just getting my protein in!” someone will cheerfully report as they dig into General Tso’s chicken or crack open a hard-boiled egg. “I just make sure to eat lots of legumes,” a vegan will say in response to the question of how they get enough protein without eating animal products.
Protein is vital for human consumption, but in no way can its importance be separated from the context of the whole food it came from. What we need to be consuming is food – whole, plant-based food – because it provides the range of nutrients (protein included) that humans need to function in health.
That being said, I know you’re asking anyway, “How much protein do I really need?” For an individual adult, this is a minimum of about 4-5% of total calories per day on average, or 0.6g/kg body weight. How did we get this number? Scientists have measured people’s protein consumption and nitrogen balance and determined how much protein (as nitrogen) must be consumed to balance how much is routinely lost (the body is always replacing old protein). This estimate is considered the minimum daily requirement. Researchers will also take into consideration any symptoms that may arise with the different amounts of protein that people are consuming.