How Much Dietary Protein Should People Consume?

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Over the years, various so-called "high protein" diets have come in and out of fashion, either with the goals of weight loss or building muscle mass. Many people believe that a high protein diet is the most healthy choice, but the fact is that consuming too much protein isn't healthy at all.

Most people in the U.S. have diets that are adequate in protein without the need for supplementation or consuming excess protein intentionally. Only elderly women, strict vegetarians with an unbalanced diet, and people with certain conditions, including eating disorders, are at risk for too little protein consumption. Protein, while typically associated with meat consumption, can be found in a variety of other foods, like nuts and seeds, milk products, tofu, eggs, dry beans, and peas. Even some grains, vegetables, and fruits contain a small amount of protein.

Animal-based foods are sometimes referred to as complete proteins; this means that they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly. These proteins are also known as high-quality proteins. Incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids. Incomplete, or complementary, proteins are found in grains and plant-based protein sources. Formerly, it was believed that one needed to eat incomplete proteins together with other incomplete proteins at the same meal to balance out the lacking amino acids; now, research has shown that the incomplete proteins can be eaten any time during the same day for the body to combine the complementary proteins.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/10/2013