There is so much hype around protein. Whether in powdered form, a slab of meat or trail mix, our bodies require it, but how much do we actually need to be healthy?

There are many factors when equating how much protein a person should consume daily. Research on protein consumption varies from study to study and is far from settled. 

Why do I need protein?

Protein is essential for bodily health. Our bodies contain more than 10,000 proteins that exist in every body part, per UCLA Health.

According to BetterHealth, protein is made up of amino acids. The human body creates eleven amino acids of its own. The nine others our bodies need to function are called “essential amino acids” we gain from eating protein-rich foods. Our bodies need all 20 amino acids to function correctly.

“Your body uses them to make new proteins, such as muscle and bone, and other compounds, such as enzymes and hormones. It can also use them as an energy source,” per BetterHealth.

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How much protein should I have a day?

That’s a controversial question. 

The United States’ recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of how much protein should be eaten in a day is “0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound,” according to Harvard Health. But that amount does not sit well with many healthcare experts.

Our World in Data found that in 2019, the United States was producing roughly 48.51 million tons of meat every year, and on average, every American consumes around 300 pounds of meat each year — clearly more than what the RDA recommends for optimal health.

Too much of a good thing can be bad for us, and protein is not the exception. 

However, Jose Antonio, a health-and-human-performance researcher at Nova Southeastern University, told The Atlantic that the RDA recommendation is not nearly enough. 

“The RDA of 0.8 grams per kilogram is ‘nothing, literally nothing,’” Antonio said. “Most of my friends get that at breakfast.” He told The Atlantic that people who are very active should eat at least 2.2 grams per kilogram and increase accordingly. 

In Antonio’s opinion, “People would be fitter, more energetic, and suffer less chronic disease; they’d build muscle more efficiently and recover faster from workouts. There is no definitive cap, in his view, on how much protein people should strive for,” The Atlantic said. 

But, not all healthcare professionals share the same opinion. 

When it comes to protein powders and supplements created from animal products like casein and whey or plants such as soy and rice, scientists caution that these products are somewhat new inventions that don’t have a lot of information on their side effects yet. 

“It’s an experiment,” Dr. John E. Swartzberg, Editorial Board Chair of UC Berkeley Health and Wellness Publications, told The New York Times. “No one can tell you the long-term effects, and that’s what worries me as a physician. No one can tell you what the results are going to be in people’s bodies 10 or 15 years later.”

According to Mayo Clinic Health Systems, “Anywhere from 10% to 35% of your calories should come from protein. So if your needs are 2,000 calories, that’s 200–700 calories from protein or 50–175 grams.”

What foods have high protein?

Many protein-rich foods are natural and recommended by healthcare professionals. According to Healthline, these foods can help maintain a healthy lifestyle and not leave you hungry:

  • Seafood
  • White-meat poultry
  • Eggs
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Almonds/peanuts