Most people know that protein is a macronutrient that’s essential for maintaining good cellular health and building lean muscle. But protein also plays a role in hormone regulation, boosts brain function, and keeps your immune system healthy. So how can you get more protein in your diet without the unhealthy fats, sugars, and carbohydrates?
In this guide, we will show you why protein is important in a healthy diet, how much protein you need each day to maximize health benefits, and how to increase the amount of protein you consume each day–while avoiding unwanted fat, sugar, and carbs.
Why is protein important in a healthy diet?
Protein is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to function properly. Protein is found throughout the body—in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue. You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones.
But, it can be difficult to get enough protein in your diet without consuming unhealthy levels of fat, sugar, or carbs.
What is the optimal amount of protein to eat each day?
We published an entire article about how much protein you need per day but the short answer is that most people are not getting enough protein in their diet. Current dietary guidelines recommend a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Protein researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., says that 1.2 – 1.8 g/kg is a better number to strive for when it comes to overall protein intake and that protein needs to comprise a larger percentage of your overall calories as you get older.
A study published in the journal Nutrients recommended a protein intake between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg/day for elderly adults, which is close to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
How to increase the amount of protein in your daily diet (without excess sugar, fat, and carbs)
There are several strategies you can use to increase your daily protein intake.
First, you’ll want to start tracking the amount of protein you currently eat, so you have a baseline understanding of where you are vs. where you want to be. There are plenty of apps to help you do this. Just search for “calorie tracker” or “protein tracker” in any app store.
Planning ahead and cooking your own meals is one strategy you can use to ensure you’re getting the necessary amount of protein each day.
You should be eating roughly the same amount of protein in each meal (dinner is usually a little higher for most people).
So, for example, if you’re a 150-pound person looking to consume close to 1 gram per pound per day (so 150 grams of protein total), you’d want around 5 meals with 30 grams of protein each, or 4 meals with 35-40 grams of protein.
Taking small steps like adding extra protein to one or two meals a day is a great way to start making changes to your protein intake without getting overwhelmed.
Now, obviously many animal sources of protein (particularly beef and pork) can be higher in fat. Incorporating more plant-based proteins into your meal plan will help you to get more lean protein without excess fat. It can also reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses.
Drinking protein shakes is an easy way to get more protein each day as well. Whether you choose animal or plant-based protein powders, make sure you’re looking at the nutrition label and picking one without added sugars, carbs, and fat. I recommend trying to look for products with shorter ingredients lists and no sugar.
No matter your dietary preferences, it’s important to make sure you are getting adequate protein in your diet.
Plant based proteins like legumes, nuts, seeds, and even plant protein powders offer plenty of advantages for overall health, especially if you can’t tolerate dairy products or don’t eat meat.
For some people, dairy products, eggs, and lean meats like fish, turkey, chicken, venison, and more can be easily incorporated for a healthy protein boost.
Taking the time to find the right combination of protein sources for you will help ensure that your body gets all the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy.