Protein has become the emotionally charged macronutrient that no one wants to talk about.
The debate of plant-based versus animal-based sources has divided us, while carbs and fat have taken center stage as the most important nutrients to watch for good health.
But protein deserves some attention. After all, it’s derived from the Greek word “protos,” which means “first,” a nod to its long-understood benefits for human health.
Protein provides us with the building blocks of life—helping us make muscle, connective tissue, hair, blood, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and more. Clearly, it’s important that we’re eating enough of this essential macronutrient if we want to feel strong, energized, and healthy.
But many of us may not be getting enough protein in our daily diets. The RDA, or recommended dietary allowance, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. To easily calculate your own RDA for protein, just multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36. For someone who is 150 pounds, that would be 54 grams of protein.
The catch is that the RDA is the minimum amount of protein needed to avoid getting sick, not the amount needed for optimal health.
Research shows several different benefits for eating more than that minimum amount. For example, some studies suggest a protein intake above the RDA could support bone mineral density and reduce the risk of fractures.
Then there is the fact that the natural loss of muscle mass and strength as we age is correlated to all-cause mortality and linked to the incidence of many chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and stroke, hypertension, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. To make matters worse, these diseases increase protein degradation and reduce our ability to synthesize skeletal muscle, creating an even higher demand for protein. For these reasons, it’s especially important to eat more protein as we age.
If you want to learn more about a protein-rich diet, check out my recent podcast episode with Dr. Gabrielle Lyon. Dr. Lyon’s focus is muscle-centric medicine; she believes we should all be eating a lot more protein and explains why throughout our talk. We also get into the benefits of animal-protein versus plant-based sources and the topic of sustainability and protein demands, along with so much more.
No matter what your protein preference is, I hope you find this information helpful for taking a deeper look at your own diet and how to stay strong at any age.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD