The Power of Protein: How Much Should You Really Be Eating?

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Protein is a powerful tool for managing your hunger and weight. Of all the macronutrients (that’s protein, carbohydrate, and fat), protein is the most filling. Not only does it help you feel full, it also boosts your metabolism, and ensures you hang onto healthy muscle while losing fat. That’s one good reason why high-protein diets have become so popular, although going paleo or trying Whole30 may not be the healthiest choice. Trendy diets take the notion too far, putting too much emphasis on meat alone, at the expense of other essential foods, like grains and dairy.

It’s better to understand how much protein you really need, and try to balance it throughout the day. That doesn’t mean you need to load your plate with meat (most American adult and teen males are actually eating too much meat, poultry, and eggs). But you do need to pay attention to when you eat it. Most people make the mistake of saving it for the end of the day—you know, cereal for breakfast, a sliver of ham on a sandwich for lunch, and a huge hunk of steak or chicken for dinner. So how can you harness the hunger-fighting power of protein? It’s simple when you know your numbers.

Eat Protein Throughout the Day

The total amount of protein you need ranges between 0.8 to 1.6 grams per kilogram body weight (or 0.4 to 0.7 grams per pound), and depends on your age and how active you are. And if you’re trying to lose weight, aiming for the slightly higher amounts of protein can help you reach your goal. Research points to the benefits of spreading your protein throughout the day, to really tap into the feelings of fullness it offers, so it’s smart to take in about 25 to 30 grams of protein per mealfor most people, that means eating more protein at breakfast and lunch and easing up at dinner. Including 10 to 20 grams of protein with your snacks will make them more satisfying, too.

12 Healthy Protein Picks

This might come as a surprise, but whole grains provide protein, too, as does dairy. In fact,1 cup of quinoa delivers more protein than a large egg, and 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese offers more than a 3-ounce steak. Mix it up when making your protein choices, and opt for lean, low-fat, and minimally processed foods. A few to consider:

Food Average protein per serving
Poultry (3 ounces) 26 g
Meat (3 ounces) 25 g
Seafood (3 ounces) 18 g
Beans (1 cup) 16 g
Low-fat Greek yogurt (5 ounces) 15 g
Tempeh (3 oz) 15 g
Low-fat cottage cheese (½ cup) 13 g
Eggs (2 large) 12 g
Cheese (1½ ounces) 10 g
Low-fat or nonfat milk (1 cup) 8 g
Quinoa (1 cup) 8 g
Mixed nuts (1 ounce) 6 g

The Right Amount of Protein for Your Plate

Breakfast ideas: 25–30 g protein and 400–500 calories

  • Delicious overnight oats soaked in 1 cup low-fat milk, topped with 1 cup apple, 3 chopped walnuts, and cinnamon, topped with a small tub of low-fat Greek yogurt
  • A fluffy omelette made with 2 large eggs, 1½ oz low-fat cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, served with sliced ½ an avocado and whole-wheat toast
  • A breakfast burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla filled with 1 scrambled egg, ½ cup black beans, sautéed peppers, and ½ a sliced avocado, topped with ½ cup shredded cheese
  • A mango-coconut smoothie, made with 1 cup of frozen mango, 1 cup low-fat milk, 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil for a tropical flavored treat

 Lunch and dinner ideas: 25–30 g protein and 400–500 calories

  • A 3-oz turkey burger topped with sliced tomato, a generous handful of arugula, and a 1 tablespoon of avocado mayonnaise, served on a whole-grain bun
  • 1 cup chickpeas, tossed with 1 cup mixed greens, balsamic vinegar, and 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, topped with 1½ oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 oz smoked salmon, on a whole-wheat bagel smeared with 2 tablespoons cream cheese, topped with sliced tomato and red onion
  • A 3-oz lean sirloin steak with roasted asparagus sprinkled with 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and served with 3 roasted rosemary new potatoes
  • 3 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast strips, mixed into a spicy ratatouille pasta sauce and served over 1 cup whole-wheat pasta

Snack ideas: 10–20 g protein and approximately 200 calories

  • ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with 5 mini whole-wheat crackers and 1 cup carrot sticks for dipping
  • A hard-boiled egg served on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato
  • 5 oz low-fat Greek yogurt topped with raspberries
  • 1 oz almonds with a low-fat mozzarella cheese stick

There’s no need to eat like a caveman or follow a trendy, unsustainable diet to get enough protein. Simply understanding which foods are the best choices and making an effort to spread them throughout the day can keep you in a healthy range, and could even work wonders on your waistline.

18 Comments   Join the Conversation

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I am looking for night snacks I work nights 7p-7a and find myself hungry and don’t want to be unhealthy. Regular diner meals are too heavy nuts and berries are good just can’t eat that many. Any suggestions.

  • Generally great advice re natural healthy foods, and that protein is great for managing appetite and hunger. Just a little dissapointing that a progressive company such as Fitbit is still perpetuating the low fat, high grain, three meals a day diet mantra that becomes more obviously flawed with each new scientific paper. It’s ‘low fat’ (and consequently high sugar) that has largely led to the western worlds obesity and diabetes epidemic. While grains are a major factor in fatigue and chronic inflammation in many people.

    There is no one size fits all diet and much better to allow people to find a diet that works for them, and is maintainable over the long term.

  • I’m a vegetarian with thyroid problems (hypothyroid) I am 59years old & I do approx 18000 steps a day, I used to count my calories but stopped as I don’t seem to loose any weight. Please can you suggest a better way to get my target weight 58kg I’m now 63.4kg.

  • Although all these are ok some are also loaded with cholesterol, which I am also trying to reduce naturally. Any other suggestions? Thank you in advance.

  • I’m lactose intolerant and have been trying to cut dairy off my diet. How can I eat the required amount of protein every day without dairy products?

  • Great article. Loved the suggestions. I already do quite a few of these. My boys use protein powder. I would rather get it from food. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Informative and helpful. Now I can target specific amount of protein more evenly throughout the day, using some of your suggested combos…thanks!

  • Good information on how metabolism really works. I lost 30 pounds in 2016 but weight loss has slowed down and now on a roller coaster up and down. However, I still need to lose 20 more pounds. Unfortunately, I gained 7 lbs over the holidays and it seems so hard to get back into my workout regime. I am going to try these new eating habits as I force myself to get back to the gym. I am not a junk food eater, but I make bad choices, and not skip meals.

    Oh! And I am so going to make that Avocado Mayonnaise. that sounds delish

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