Diane May Nutrition Blog

How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?

December 4th, 2019

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, how much protein do I really need. Before I answer that question, what is protein and why do we need it? Proteins are the building blocks of bone, muscle, cartilage, skin and blood as well as a fuel source. They are made of amino acids, organic compounds found in every cell of our body. Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions. Proteins transport materials throughout the body and are necessary to form blood cells. Every gram of protein has 4 calories, the same as a carbohydrate. Dietary sources of protein include both animals and plants, but there is a difference.

Plant based proteins have healthy unsaturated fat and fiber, whereas animal proteins contain saturated fat, which we need to limit in our diet. Most Americans consume way more animal proteins than plant proteins.

There are three types of protein:

  • Complete proteins- Contain all amino acids and are found in animal products: meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs.
  • Incomplete proteins-Contain at least one amino acid, but not all. Plant foods are predominantly incomplete. (soy and quinoa are complete)
  • Complementary proteins-When you combine two incomplete proteins to form a complete protein such as rice and beans.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) recommends that the average person needs .8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. If you are doing intense weight or endurance training, recovering from an illness or pregnant, the number increases to 1.2-2.0g/kg.  So how do you calculate this?

  • First calculate your weight in kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2.
  • Multiply your weight in kilograms (kg) times the number of protein grams per day.
  • Example: 135 pound sedentary woman, who does regular moderate exercise:
  • 135 pounds/2.2=61.36 kg,   61.36kg x .8=49 grams of protein per day.

In the United State, we do not have standardized units of measure, so although we calculate protein in grams, most people are more familiar with pounds and ounces. Below is a helpful guide to assist you in converting some proteins from ounces to grams.

  • Chicken, skinless-3 ounces=28 grams
  • Red meat-3 ounces=26 grams
  • Turkey- 3ounces=25 grams
  • Lamb- 3 ounces=23 grams
  • Pork-3 ounces=22 grams
  • Egg- 1 large=6 grams
  • Salmon 3 ounces=22 grams
  • Tuna-3 ounces=22 grams
  • shrimp-3 ounces=20 grams
  • Pinto beans-1/2 cup=11 grams
  • Lentils-1/2 cup=9 grams
  • Edamame-1/2 cup=9 grams
  • Black Beans-1/2 cup=8 grams
  • Chickpeas-1/2 cup=7 grams
  • Quinoa-1/2 cup=4 grams
  • Pasta, cooked-1/3 cup=3 grams
  • Peas-1/2 cup=4 grams
  • Broccoli-1 cup raw-2.6 grams
  • Brussels sprouts-1 cup=3 grams
  • Spinach-1/2 cup=3 grams
  • Tofu-1/2 cup=11 grams
  • Pumpkin seeds-1 ounce=9 grams
  • Peanut butter-1 Tablespoon=7 grams
  • Almonds-1 ounce=6 grams
  • Chia seeds-1 ounce=5 grams
  • Walnuts-1 ounce=4 grams
  • Cashews-1 ounce=4 grams
  • Greek yogurt-6 ounces=18 grams
  • Cottage cheese-4 ounces=14 grams
  • Skim milk-1 cup=8 grams
  • Non fat string cheese-1 piece=6 grams

Protein helps to keep you feeling full longer, which can aide with weight loss.  Consuming healthy amounts of protein helps to preserve and build muscle mass. That is not to say more is better. Always aim to consume lean protein, low in saturated fat and avoid processed carbohydrates. Eat a variety of proteins. Choose low fat cooking methods such as: broil, grill, bake, roast, grill and poach. Pay attention to labels, especially of high protein bars and shakes as they are usually loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners. I recommend limiting red meat and increasing fish and plant sources of protein. Occasionally make your whole day plant based-beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains and other plant sources and see how you feel! When in doubt, ask your RD how much protein you need to meet your daily requirements.

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Tomatoes, Beans & Almond Pesto

From: EatingWell Magazine, January/February 2017

Looking at a tangle of spaghetti squash tricks your brain into thinking you’re about to eat a serving of eggy noodles, when in fact, you get a nice calorie and carb savings in this healthy recipe. Giving tomatoes a stint in a hot oven makes them candy-sweet.

  • By:Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N.


Ingredients       4 servings

  • Almond Pesto
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup whole raw almonds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1½ tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • Spaghetti Squash & Vegetables
  • 1 3-pound spaghetti squash
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed


    •  Prep     45 m
  • Ready In     45 m
  1. To prepare pesto: Pulse basil, parsley, Parmesan, almonds, garlic, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper in a food processor until coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides. With the motor running, add ¼ cup oil; process until well combined.


  1. Add water to the pesto in the food processor; pulse to combine.


  1. To prepare squash & vegetables: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.


  1. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down in a microwave-safe dish and add water. Microwave on High until the flesh can be easily scraped with a fork, about 15 minutes.


  1. Meanwhile, toss tomatoes with oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Roast until soft and wrinkled, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven. Add beans and stir to combine.


  1. Scrape the squash flesh into the bowl and divide among 4 plates. Top each portion with some of the tomato-bean mixture and about 3 tablespoons pesto sauce.
  • To make ahead: Refrigerate pesto (Step 1) for up to 5 days.
  • Tips: Turn leftovers into a pesto-turkey sandwich for lunch: Spread 1½ Tbsp. leftover pesto on 2 slices toasted whole-wheat bread. Top with 3 oz. sliced deli turkey, 2 lettuce leaves and 2 tomato slices.

Nutrition information


  • Serving size: 1½ cups each
  • Per serving: 400 calories; 26 g fat(4 g sat); 10 g fiber; 37 g carbohydrates; 12 g protein; 140 mcg folate; 8 mg cholesterol; 12 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 3,780 IU vitamin A; 47 mg vitamin C; 262 mg calcium; 4 mg iron; 499 mg sodium; 1,020 mg potassium
  • Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin C (78% daily value), Vitamin A (76% dv), Folate (35% dv), Calcium (26% dv), Iron (22% dv)
  • Carbohydrate Servings: 2½
  • Exchanges: 1½ starch, 1 vegetable, ½ lean meat, 4½ fat