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September 15, 2011

Protein on My Plate

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

MyPlate, the government's new symbol for healthy eating, is an icon for a balanced diet that pays particular attention to protein. Protein is the only nutrient called out on the graphic; the other sections on the plate are actually food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. 

I'm happy to see that protein is highlighted on MyPlate, because I think it's an underappreciated nutrient that deserves more attention.  That's why I devoted an entire chapter to protein in my latest book, MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better: Decoding the Dietary Guidelines for Your Real Life .

As part of every cell, protein helps hold your body together. The enzymes and hormones that drive the chemical reactions necessary for life are proteins, as are so many other vital compounds in the body that keep you and your kids going.

Higher-protein eating patterns are associated with a lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as long as you don't overdo it on calories. Plus, protein helps you to preserve muscle tissue when dieting. 

While calorie reduction alone can lead to weight loss, that loss often includes fat as well as lean tissue, which is mostly muscle. Higher-protein diets, including those with a large amount of protein from dairy foods, help you to lose more belly fat while preserving muscle.

Your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself, and muscle supplies the building blocks called amino acids that your body needs between meals. Eating enough protein signals your body to make, and retain, muscle. That's beneficial in many ways, including because muscle burns more calories than fat and may help with weight control.

Your protein requirements depend on your calorie needs for a healthy weight.  There is a large acceptable range for protein intake, from 10% of your daily calorie needs to 35%. For example, on a 2,000-calorie diet, you need 50 to 175 grams of protein daily, which amounts to 200 to 700 calories worth of protein that must be accounted for in your daily energy intake (there are four calories in every gram of protein). 

It's wise not to err on the low side of your protein requirement, especially if you're over age 25; a reasonable intake on 2,000 calories a day is more like 80 to 90 grams of protein daily. Around your mid-20's, you start to break down more muscle than you make and eating enough protein at every meal becomes even more important to preserve and build lean tissue.

Here's a chart to help you get the protein you need every day.

Food                                                        Protein (grams)

Chicken, pork, beef, salmon, tuna,             22
3 ounces, cooked   

Hood Low Fat Cottage Cheese , 1/2 cup      14

Greek yogurt, fruit, fat-free, 6 ounces        14

Tofu, raw, 1/2 cup                                    10

Simply Smart Milk ,1 cup                            10

Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons                      9

Hood Milk , (whole or 1% low-fat), 1 cup     8

Lentils, cooked, ½ cup                               8

Egg, raw or cooked, large                          6

Read more about Elizabeth Ward, the Hood Answer Mom, and her new book at:


Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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