Protein is a critical dietary macronutrient, responsible for regulating nearly every biochemical reaction in your body. It’s needed for building muscle, skin, hair, nails, and bone collagen; regulating metabolism and energy; making and regulating hormones; maintaining your immune system; and healing and regenerating body tissues. (Yeah, pretty important.)
Aside from water, protein is the most abundant substance in our bodies.
The average female adult needs about 60-90 grams of protein per day (of course with variation based on body size and level of activity–try this protein calculator to estimate how much you need). A reasonable estimate is 0.7-1 grams of protein for every pound of body weight–if you’re not very active, aim for the lower end, and if you’re doing a lot of strength training or recovering from an injury, aim for the higher end.
For reference, there’s 6 grams of protein in an egg, 8 in a handful of almonds, 15 in a cup of black beans, and 45 in a 6 oz. steak. Think you’re getting enough?
A note on protein sources: You may have heard that animal proteins (like meat, seafood, and eggs) are “complete” proteins–meaning they contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids (the ones the body can’t make on its own)–whereas non-animal sources of protein (like beans, nuts, and grains) need to be combined to deliver all essential amino acids. This is pretty much true, with the exception of quinoa, soy, hemp, and buckwheat, which do happen to be “complete” proteins too. See this diagram for more details on vegetarian protein combinations. (But also note that vegetarian proteins don’t need to be combined in one sitting, just más o menos in one day.)
So if you’re suddenly wondering how you can start eating more protein, here’s an idea: throw it on a salad! (Because you should probably eat more greens too…)
Some particularly high-protein salad ideas: