High-Protein Foods Are Essential to a Healthy Diet

Protein is a nutrient your body needs in order to maintain its structures, including muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Protein also is a key element in many compounds that your body needs to function properly. When you don’t get enough high-protein foods, many damaging effects can occur, such as loss of muscle mass, depressed immunity, and weakened cardiac and respiratory systems. That’s why your daily diet should include several servings of high-protein foods.

The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.37 grams per pound of body weight). To determine your protein needs, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.37. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, that’s 44 grams of protein per day; if you weigh 160 pounds, your RDA of daily protein is 57 grams.

Newer research indicates that a slightly higher amount of protein-0.41 to 0.45 grams per pound-may be a better range for optimal health and muscle mass. Using this formula, a 120-pound adult would need 49 to 54 grams of protein per day, and a 160-pound person would need 66 to 72 grams per day.

Use these numbers as a general guide; they are approximations. Equally important to the quantity of protein you consume is the type of the protein.


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The Protein Package

When choosing protein foods, it’s all about the protein package-the other substances and nutrients that come with the protein. Some protein foods also contain undesirable ingredients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and additives that have been linked with negative health outcomes. For example, consuming large amounts of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) has been linked with many health risks, including increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, lunch meats, and bacon, are linked with an even higher risk of these diseases.

Other protein sources come in a healthy package. For example, fatty fish offers protein packaged with healthy, unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish include salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna.

The benefits of eating salmon and other fatty fish have been supported by so much research that the American Heart Association advises adults to eat at least two servings of fish, particularly fatty fish, each week. Include fish in at least two of your healthy meal plans each week.

Other high-protein foods from animal sources include other species of fish, such as haddock, trout, flounder, tuna, catfish, and bass; shellfish, including oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels; and crustaceans, including shrimp, lobster, and crab. Skinless breast of chicken and turkey and low-fat milk and yogurt are other high-protein foods to include in your diet plans.

Fish is the major dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that provide a multitude of heart health benefits. Eating omega-3-rich fish can lower your risk of arrhythmias, lower levels of triglycerides and blood pressure, and slow the growth of plaque in your arteries. In addition, consuming omega-3s also may provide protection from inflammation, arthritis, depression, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Be selective about your fish choices. Choose sustainable fish that are not threatened or endangered, and avoid the four fish with the highest mercury contents: shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.

For further reading, see “Finding High-Protein Foods from Plant Sounces.”

Originally published May 2016.

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