Why You Need Protein

This important nutrient helps your body build and repair itself. Find out how much you need each day.

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While fat and carbs have each spent their time in the naughty chair, protein — a macronutrient — has largely been immune to scrutiny and instead is actively sought out by bodybuilders, dieters and expectant mothers alike.

Why You Need Protein in Your Diet
Protein is an important nutrient for your body. It’s used to make up every structure in your body from the tiniest cell to the largest organ. Your body breaks down protein from food into amino acids and then uses those amino acids to create proteins you need, such as enzymes, certain types of hormones, immunoproteins (which play a major role in immune function) and structural proteins — (which give form to most of your body such as your skin, blood vessels, organs and bones).

What Is Protein and Where Can You Find It?
Lots of foods contain protein, but some have more than others. Good sources include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy, beans, soy foods, nuts and seeds. Protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids. When you eat protein, it gets broken down into these amino acids and then reassembled. Essential amino acids are ones that we don’t make ourselves and need to get through food. Animal proteins (like eggs, poultry, dairy and fish) are complete proteins — they contain all of the essential amino acids. Most plant-based proteins are incomplete — they contain only ome of the essential amino acids. Although it used to be thought that you had to pair complementary incomplete proteins (like rice and beans) at the same meal, it’s now known that it doesn’t matter when you eat them: as long as you get a variety throughout the day (which is easy to do), your body will get what it needs.

How Much You Need
You probably need far less protein than you think. The general rule of thumb is that you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (that’s about .4 grams per pound). That means a 150-pound person would need 54 grams of protein a day. Of course, there are times when your protein needs are higher when you’re pregnant or nursing, if you're an athlete or you're recovering from illness. And most people can safely eat more than the daily recommended amount without harming their health—up to 30 percent of your daily calories. On a 2,000-calorie diet that would be 150 grams.

Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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