Protein 101: Understanding This Important Nutrient and Where To Find It

We’re sure you’ve heard about the importance of protein in your diet, as it receives tons of attention in the nutrition world. But a few things you might not be so informed about is why our bodies need it, where we can find protein rich foods, and how much we need. If this is you, then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn about why and how you can incorporate this critical nutrient into your every day diet.


Primary Protein Functions:


1. Muscle Growth and Repair. Our muscles breakdown and build up on a regular basis. In order to ensure that “building up” phase occurs, our bodies need adequate amounts of dietary protein. Think of protein foods as the bricks and our muscles as the house. We need bricks (protein) to build the strong house (our muscles)!


2. Provides Structure. Structural proteins, known as keratin, collagen and elastin, are proteins found in our hair, skin, nails, and other connective tissue. Although our bodies naturally make these proteins, there are certain foods that can help boost our bodies ability to make them. These include foods like chicken, fish, egg whites, beans, and cashews.


3. Acts as a Messenger. Certain proteins make up large parts of our hormones, too. Hormones act as messengers between our cells, tissues, and organs (so they can effectively communicate). These hormones include insulin and glucagon, which are responsible for blood sugar regulation.


4. Improves Immune Health. Antibodies, which are proteins that help fight off infection, are incredibly important for proper immune function. They protect our bodies from foreign substances, like bacteria and viruses.


5. Provides Energy. Last but not least, protein containing foods provide calories, which our bodies use as energy!


Dietary Sources:


1. Meat – chicken, turkey, beef, pork loin, ham, sausage, etc.

2. Seafood – salmon, tuna, tilapia, crab, scallops, shrimp, etc.

3. Eggs – check out our post on the many different ways to enjoy eggs by clicking here!

4. Dairy – cheese, yogurt, milk

5. Nuts/Seeds – cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans

6. Nut Butters – peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter, etc.

7. Beans – kidney, black, pinto, chickpea, navy, etc.

8. Whole Grains (*in smaller amounts) – barleywhole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain teff, etc.

9. Soy – soy beans, tofu, edamame, soy milk


How Much Do I Need?


When it comes to protein needs, everyones requirements are different. And while we recommend speaking with a nutrition professional for your unique needs, here’s a breakdown of general protein needs for various ages and genders:


  • Girls/Boys Aged 2-3: 2-4 ounces/day
  • Girls Aged 4-8: 3-5 ounces/day
  • Boys Aged 4-8: 3-5.5 ounces/day
  • Girls Aged 9-13: 4-6 ounces/day
  • Boys Aged 9-13: 5-6.5 ounces/day
  • Girls Aged 14-18: 5-6.5 ounces/day
  • Boys Aged 14-18: 5.5-7 ounces/day


Well, there you have it! Now that you’re an expert on protein, try out this protein-rich recipe!