Protein Basics   Print Friendly and PDF

In 2001 the Journal of Gerontology published a study which determined seniors getting the recommended dietary allowance of protein, 0.8 grams per kilo, remained in negative nitrogen balance throughout the study. This means,

1. The recommended dietary allowance for protein is not sufficient for seniors and

2. This insufficiency contributes to the muscle loss, bone loss (collagen), and debilitation and degeneration of persons 70 and older.

This study confirms my own experience with clients over the last 40 years. Protein is essential at all ages. Please use the information provided here to make sure you get sufficient protein every day.

Count your protein. It matters.

By age 65 make sure you get about 1 gram of protein for each 2 pounds of body weight, or more, NOT less UNLESS YOU HAVE KIDNEY DISEASE.

In 2007 the Journal of Physiological Anthropology published a Japanese study on the correlation between breakfast tryptophan content and 'morningness'-'eveningness' (meaning biological rhythms which are important to both body and mind).

They measured breakfast tryptophan (tryptophan is only found in protein foods) and nighttime melatonin in children 0-15 years of age. In children eight years of age and under (birth to 8) only BREAKFAST protein ON THE SAME DAY influenced nighttime melatonin.

Children with insufficient BREAKFAST PROTEIN had significantly lower levels of melatonin. It is likely this group is most severely effected because protein need is so high in growing children.

Lower tryptophan causes the body to produce lower levels of serotonin and melatonin leading to sleep disorders, learning disorders, and behavioral disorders. In the study lower tryptophan in ages 0-8 produced more difficulty falling asleep and getting up in the morning. The infants and children also 'became angry even by a little trigger, or depressed' degree related directly to AM protein intake.

The study confirmed 'Evening-type students have lower mood, higher irritation, and more easily triggered anger...'. meaning when we do not eat sufficient protein we ensure lower sleep quality because we produce less serotonin and melatonin resulting in negative changes in children OF ALL AGES (and by the by, adults).


This information is not suitable for use with children (whose needs are much greater) or persons on medication or persons who have kidney disease. Check with your physician. If you need help consider consulting with me. Download the Client Information Packet.

Protein is a part of every cell of your body. It is a major structural component of all cells: skin, hair, nails and bone. It is the necessary raw material from which your body makes the enzymes critical for functioning, from digestion to reproduction. It is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters which affect your mind and mood. Protein (with fat) is the base material of the immune system. Without protein there is no life. You cannot make protein. It must be consumed every day in sufficient quantities to replace daily losses.

If you are currently eating much less protein than suggested here, please do not go out and eat a cow- or a bunch of beans. Always make dietary changes, of any kind, slowly!! It interests me that we understand this principle of slow change with infants and even with animals (a warning to introduce new food slowly is on pet food bags) but we miss the point with adult humans. Any dramatic change, for the good or not, will usually have an initial negative impact on digestion. Again, introduce change slowly.

To calculate your daily protein need (the easy way):

Desired body weight _______, in kilos times 0.8-1.2 grams; in pounds times 0.36-0.6 grams; equals _______ grams per day.

Use the lower figure if you are in perfect health and physically fit. Use a higher number if you are under stress, emotional or physical. The highest number, 1.2 grams per kilo or 0.6 grams per pound, is used pre- and post-surgery, during pregnancy, after illness and for weight training.

Example: A healthy man, 175 lbs./79.54 kilos, exercising regularly with no health problems would need 72 (71.59) grams of protein per day. That works out to about 24 grams per meal. If stressed or ill the calculation might go as high as 95 grams per day.
For those who want to calculate protein as percent of calories (the hard way) try this-

To calculate your daily protein requirement the hard way:
Desired body weight ________times 14-28 [calories per pound per day (CPPPD)]
times 0.15-0.3 (15%-30% of calories)_________ divided by 4.5 (number of grams per calorie). ________

Example: A woman, 45 years of age, healthy body weight 130-- 130 X 15 X 0.2 divided by 4.5=86 grams per day. This 'way' to calculate usually gives higher numbers. Still, the benefit of protein seems to be within this range. The best test is how you feel.

CPPPD- Choose 14 if you are sedentary-- spend most of your time sitting down. Increase the number as activity increases. A professional athlete could need more than 28 CPPPD. The average for an active male or female- exercising 4+hours per week and spending most of your time on your feet-is 20 CPPPD. Do not use less than 14 CPPPD. You can not reduce body fat by reducing protein calories. You will end up loosing muscle and further reduce your body's ability to burn fat.

Percent- If you are in good health, not under undo stress, not pregnant, not preparing for surgery or recovering from injury use 0.15 (15%). If you have some stress, frequent infections, fatigue, moodiness or impaired digestion multiply by 0.2 (20%). If you are a competitive athlete, under great emotional or physical stress including chronic illness, injury, pre or post surgery or are pregnant or nursing multiply by 0.25-0.3 (25%-30%). Athletes who have increased the protein and fat in their diets have dramatically improved endurance performance. See the work of Barry Sears and the Zone Diet.



For a more detailed source of food nutrient content order Bowes & Church Food Values of Portions Commonly Used or visit the USDA database or download a free nutrient database from the USDA.

Protein foods also contain fat and/or carbohydrate. Beans and grains are protein/carbohydrate (glycoproteins) combinations. Because these glycoproteins contain high amounts of lectins do make sure to read the lectin review . Meat, fish, poultry and eggs are protein/fat combos as are nuts and seeds.

When choosing proteins keep the fat/protein ratio in mind and be a label reader. Use a food value table when necessary until you get used to estimating. Meat, as wild game, tends to be lean and contain significant amounts of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Nuts and seeds and some fish are high in fat but these fats are easily used by the body for energy and the manufacture of other essential substances.

The type of fat in natural protein, from animals and fish NOT fed grain, is higher in the omega 3 fatty acids which are precursors to the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Avoid high fat grain fed meats and farmed fish.

High protein foods may be 'chewy' and 'dry'. An easy way to guesstimate fat content is by texture. Fat gives a creamy or juicy texture. Proteins are naturally dry and chewy when cooked by methods other than boiling or slow roasting. Fats become more liquid with heat. Proteins become drier and tougher. Use moisture to keep low fat protein foods palatable. Salsa works as does cooking in a small amount of wine and/or water. Using proteins in soups and stews, steaming and slow cooking keep proteins moist and tender, making them more digestible. Do not overcook proteins.

Bacon, hot dogs, 'lunch meats' and such would not be considered good sources of protein. They are high fat, high salt, chemically-preserved foods. There are hot dogs low in fat and without preservatives. Read labels.
Vegetarians and even 'raw food' vegans can get sufficient protein but they must consume much larger quantities of food to get adequate amounts.

Total grams per ounce and the essentiality of the amino acids in the protein equal the quality or value of the protein source. Beans and rice are fine. Just count the grams. Early in protein research there was some concern about needing to combine proteins so that all essential proteins were available at each meal. Later research has determined that this is not necessary. While all essential amino acids are needed they do not have to been eaten together. A 'real food' diet with variable protein sources will usually cover all essential amino acids.

In my 37+ years of practicing nutrition I have come to believe women need more protein, per pound of body weight, than men, to attain the same level of health. It may be women just tend to eat less protein than men. Many cases of depression, PMS, symptoms of menopause, fatigue and other chronic complaints have disappeared completely with an increase of protein.

There has been some attention given to the fact that protein may increase the risk of osteoporosis. This information was based on a study using concentrated protein which caused a net calcium loss, more going out than coming in. When the study was repeated using meat as the protein source calcium was retained and bone mass was enhanced. The researchers believe that the phosphorus in the meat improved retention of calcium. Other research has demonstrated the risk for osteoporosis is strongly tied to the amount of potassium and magnesium consumed. The five key components of the healthy diet are protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium, and vitamin D, consumed in sufficient quantities.

Protein in food is slowly released into the blood stream allowing for maximum utilization of amino acids. When minerals or proteins or other nutrients are 'loaded' into the system your body must work hard to remove the overload. Most countries eat four or more meals per day. The largest meal is consumed before 4 PM. Eating protein early in the day and at more than one meal will feed your body best.

Typically one would eat the amount of whole, natural, preservative free protein that would cover the palm of your hand at each meal. Two or three eggs at breakfast or cottage cheese in your oatmeal. Fish, poultry, meat or cheese at lunch and the same with dinner. Vegetarian source proteins are less concentrated so the 'palm of the hand' measure won't work. You'll need to count grams.
There is a current craze to eat carbohydrates and reduce protein and fat (of any kind). This path will not lead to long term health. The body must have wholesome, natural protein and high quality fats to function. Contrary to 'media nutrition' we do not all eat too much wholesome protein in this country. We eat too many processed fats; processed, preserved, salted proteins; refined carbohydrates and non-nutritive calories.

Raising or maintaining your protein intake to your calculated 'goal' as per either of the formulas above will change the way you feel in just 3-5 days. Try it and see.

If you have avoided protein for an extended period of time, you may find concentrated proteins difficult to digest. This is probably not because you are intolerant to them (with the exception of lectins) but because you are actually making less proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes. Use a digestive enzyme for the first week or so, something like bromelaine or papaya enzymes with each serving of protein. Your digestion should recover nicely.

If you have avoided or continue to avoid fish, shellfish, and red meat you may need to supplement zinc, a mineral component of proteolytic digestive enzymes, found in fish, seafood and red meat. Very little zinc is available in a reduced protein diet and no significant source of zinc is found in vegetarian or vegan diets. Zinc is not only important to protein digestion, it is also key to a healthy immune system, fertility, mood and energy. Daily zinc needs may range from 15-60 mg.

Red meat, liver, heart, and wild game (think dark meat) are heavy with essential minerals including iron. Test your ferritin at least once a year. If your ferritin is below 70 consider Solgar Hematinic Formula to replete iron stores. Ferritin below 50 is associated with hair loss, memory problems, fatigue, mood disorders and ADD and ADHD.

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Krispin Sullivan, CN 1995 Last modified on: 05 October, 2016