We all need protein in our diet. Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders and serious athletes; it’s important for everyone. Protein is a building block of new cells, and since your body is constantly making new cells for skin, hair and muscle, it should be an important part of your diet.
Now, exactly how much do you need? The Cleveland Clinic says that the typical adult needs between 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, you need about 44 grams of protein a day. For reference, a serving of beef is about the size of a deck of cards and contains about 21 grams of protein, while 1 egg has 6 grams of protein. Keep in mind that this would be the minimum amount of protein you need to avoid health complications if you have an average sedentary lifestyle. If you are someone who is active, lifts weights often or wants to build muscle, you’ll need to increase your protein intake.
Amino acids are the smaller units that make up protein and different types of foods sources have varying amounts of each amino acid. The Mayo Clinic says that the amino acid leucine has been shown to help preserve body muscle. The more muscle you have in your body, the more calories you burn even when at rest, so if you’re looking to lose weight, try strength training. Animal products like beef, lamb, pork, eggs and milk have the highest levels of leucine, but it can also be found in soybeans.
We all know that beef, chicken, fish and eggs are great sources of protein, but there are lots of other foods that have a surprising amount of protein:
Soy: A half cup of soybeans has 34 grams of protein.
Lentils: 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein.
Beans: 1 cup of cooked beans has 12-16 grams of protein.
Hemp seeds: 2 tablespoons have a whopping 11 grams of protein.
Peas: 4 ounces contain 8 grams of protein.
Nuts: Almonds and pistachios have 5-7 grams of protein per ounce.
Oats: 1 cup of oats has 6 grams of protein.
Quinoa: A one-fourth cup of quinoa has 6 grams of protein.
Chia seeds: 2 tablespoons have 4 grams of protein.
Spinach: 1 cup of spinach has 5 grams of protein.
Andrei Javier, USA TODAY Network