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High protein diets have triggered an explosion of interest, but just how much protein is enough or is too much?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, adults need a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day to keep body tissues from slowly breaking down.
That works out to a little more than 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.
But the numbers can fluctuate.
Many active athletes who strength- train try to consume about 1 gram of fat per day for every pound of body weight, said Steve Lewis of Island Sun Fitness and Tanning.
Why so much?
It helps preserve lean muscle while you lose fat.
“That’s a general rule of thumb that applies to weight lifters, but it’s not something that’s recommended for everyone,” Lewis said. “Professional bodybuilders consume even more protein than that.”
What is protein?
Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body and its main building block. Take away the water and you’ll discover that about 75 percent of your weight is protein.
Muscle, bone, skin, eyes, hair and just about every body part and tissue is comprised primarily of protein and your body is constantly burning it as it repairs, replaces and creates new cells.
Not only that, proteins are part of the antibodies that fight off viruses and bacteria that makes you sick.
“Protein is like a baseball pitcher warming up in the bullpen. It’s ready to provide backup fuel when you don’t eat enough carbohydrates,” said iEmily.com, a Web site that focuses on healthy eating.
While there are various kinds of protein, all of them are made up of the same 22 common building blocks called amino acids.
Nine amino acids – phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine and lysine – are regarded as essential for humans. And these are amino acids that your body can’t make.
You can get most of them from animal or plant products.
Meats, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products and soybean products contain the nine essential amino acids.
“By far, plant protein is the healthiest for you,” Lewis said. “But not when you are strength training. You need what you get from animal products to build up your body. It really depends on what your goal is.”
How much protein do I need?
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recently updated its protein consumption recommendations. The Dietary Reference Intake is a set of values that serve as nutrition standards for healthy persons in the United States and Canada used by health professionals.
According to the DRI guidelines, women ages 19 to 70 need to consume 46 grams of protein per day, while men ages 19 to 70 need to consume 56 grams of protein per day to avoid a deficiency.
The difference is due to a man’s body generally having more muscle mass than a woman’s body.
A lack of protein can cause growth failure, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system and death.
The Harvard School of Public Health report said that getting the minimum requirement of protein is easy.
“Cereal with milk for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and a piece of fish with a side of beans for dinner adds up to about 70 grams of protein, plenty for the average adult,” the report said.
The report also said that too much protein can release acids that the body usually neutralizes with calcium and buffering agents in the blood. That means that large amounts of protein in quantities recommended by low-carbohydrate and no-carbohydrate diets takes lots of calcium.
A Nurse’s Health Study showed that women who ate more than 95 grams of protein per day were 20 percent more likely to have a broken wrist over a 12-year period when compared to those who ate an average amount of protein per day.
Lewis said he also recommends that those who boost their diets with higher amounts of protein consume more water to keep their kidneys flushed out.
“It is important to remember that the amount of protein you consume should be directly related to what you are trying to accomplish,” he said. “You need to draw a line in the sand and not go crazy with it in either direction.”
Parmesan Chicken Tenders
This Parmesan Chicken Tenders recipe is loaded with protein; an 8-ounce serving has 65 grams of protein.
But like many high protein recipes, pay close attention to the nutritional facts. One serving has 40 percent of the total fat and 33 percent of the saturated fat as allowed in the Percent Daily Value (DV) allowance for someone who is 18 years old or older.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1 pinch salt and pepper
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
– Heat a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil to skillet.
– Wash chicken tenders thoroughly. Drain on paper towel and slightly season with salt and pepper.
– Combine eggs, milk and mustard in a shallow bowl. Dump the tenders in and coat them well.
– Combine bread crumbs and cheese in another shallow bowl.
– Pick up each tender and coat with crumb/cheese mixture.
– Saute the tenders for 2-3 minutes on each side until they are golden brown and crispy.