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Getting Enough Protein From the Foods You Eat

Protein is available from plant and animal sources

HEALTH GOES STRONG
ROBYN FLIPSE

If you read my November 4, 2011 post, Protein in the Diet – How Much is Enough?, then you should have a good idea of how many grams of protein a day you need at your current age, level of activity and state of health. Now let's see how you can make the best food choices to deliver that protein everyday. 

What foods provide the best protein?

That's really a trick question since all sources of protein are equally beneficial to the body. It was once believed that the protein from animal sources was better because it contains all of the essential amino acids, but that myth has been laid to rest. Protein from both plants and animals provides everything we need to stay healthy as long as we eat enough of it. And there is no need to combine certain foods at a meal to create "complete proteins," either. Your body collects all of the amino acids from all of the food you eat so it can recombine them to make the new proteins you need. 

How much protein is in a serving?

This is where it helps to know what the standard serving sizes look like for foods in each food group. ChooseMYPlate.gov provides detailed explanations of that. Using those serving sizes and the number of servings per day recommended in the 2000 calorie/day food plan in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, here's where your protein would come from: 

Daily Servings/Food Group          Grams of Protein

2 cups Fruit                                         0 -   2

2 ½ cups Vegetables                            4 -   8

6 oz. Grains                                       12 - 18

5 ½ oz. Meat, Beans, Nuts                  32 - 38

3 cups Dairy                                         24 

TOTAL PROTEIN                              72 - 90 grams

The ranges vary for each group since some foods are higher in protein than others within each group. But worth noting is that if you choose the higher protein foods from the vegetable and grain groups you can get as many as 26 grams of protein a day from those plant foods in your diet. 

You can also include more plant proteins by selecting the beans, nuts and seeds options from the "meat" group. Doing so gives you all the other benefits they come packaged with, like fiber and phytonutrients, without the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes with the protein found in most animal foods. 

Bottom line: You do not have to count on just the meat and dairy foods to get all the protein you need.