Protein is one of the most essential elements of a nutrient-rich diet. But, how much protein do you actually need every day? It depends.
The recommended suggestion for protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day, according to Gabrielle Lyon, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and founder of the Institute for Muscle-Centric Medicine®.
Yet, that's only "the minimum to prevent deficiency." Lyon says a more optimal range, based on scientific evidence, is having between 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of your weight daily.
"Dietary protein has dual roles," she says. "It's a combination of 20 different amino acids, and those 20 different amino acids all have different roles in the body and are required in different amounts."
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
A high-quality protein would have all of the nine essential amino acids, which can't be made and can only be acquired through diet, according to Lyon. Essential amino acids in protein are responsible for "muscle health, liver turnover and the regeneration of proteins within the body," she adds.
Here are some high-quality protein sources that you can easily supplement into your diet to meet your protein needs.
These 5 high-quality protein foods will help you meet your goals
- Lean meat including turkey
- Lean fish like tilapia or sole
- Cottage cheese
- Whey protein
"When you talk about high-quality protein, it is, and always has been, animal-based proteins in nature," including dairy, eggs, fish and poultry, Lyon says.
"Now, that's not to say plant-based proteins are bad because they're not. We're simply talking about the amino-acid profile."
Animal-based proteins typically have great doses of the essential amino acids like leucine, which stimulates muscle, she adds. "Muscle is the organ of longevity, and as we age, and go through life and sickness, muscle is really one of our primary determinants for survival."
This just means you'll need to eat much more of the plant-based proteins in your diet to meet your goals, says Lyon. For example, three cups of quinoa are equal to one small chicken in grams of lutein.
For plant-based eaters, "the amount that an individual would need to consume for overall health and wellness, for protection as they age, would also increase their calorie consumption," she adds.
3 simple high-protein meals
These are a few simple pairings, suggested by Lyon, to help get high-quality protein into your daily diet.
- An omelet with wheat toast or a side of potatoes
- Steak and vegetables you enjoy like green peas and corn, which are rich in protein
- A lean fish of your choice with rice and beans
And if you're hoping to curb unhealthy food cravings like sugary treats and other processed foods, Lyon says to "prioritize protein first."
"When you prioritize protein, you're going to be less hungry at that next meal," she says.
Correction: Animal-based proteins typically have great doses of essential amino acids like leucine. An earlier version misstated the name of the amino acid.
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter