Nearly every day, a story comes out about protein, and the advice is sometimes confusing: Eat more protein, eat less protein, avoid certain kinds of protein. For women, the issue becomes even more complicated. Protein needs for women may vary depending on their level of activity, whether they are pregnant or breastfeeding and on their stage of life.
What is Protein?
Protein supplies our bodies with amino acids, which are used to build hair, skin, nails, bones, muscles and teeth. Protein also helps provide energy to the body and helps oxygen circulate.
While the human body can store some things like carbohydrates and fats, it cannot store the amino acids that protein adds, and so the body needs to restock its supply of protein daily.
Dangers of Lack of Protein
Most people in the U.S. get enough protein, but a lack of protein can result in decreased energy, dull skin, hair breakage and lack of muscle mass. Extreme protein malnutrition, typically found in countries with famine, can result in decreased growth, edema, rash, coma and even death.
Protein for Different Stages
Athletes may need increased amounts of protein. If they are exercising to build muscles and are increasing their caloric intake, they will need to increase their protein intake as well.
Women who are pregnant need extra protein to aid in the baby's growth and development. Breastfeeding moms need additional protein to help maintain their milk supply, which contains essential amino acids.
As women age, protein remains an important part of the diet. Researchers believe protein may prove beneficial in guarding against diseases such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer's.
Amount of Protein Women Need
The Institute of Medicine recommends that 10 to 35 percent of a woman's diet come from protein. So if you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, you should eat 200 to 700 calories of protein per day. If you are more active, you may want to stay at the higher end of the range. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consult with your doctor to determine your appropriate dietary needs.
Best Sources of Protein
Nutritionist agree that the best types of protein come from lean, low-fat sources. Animal proteins, such as chicken, fish and lean beef are excellent sources of protein. Vegetable proteins, such as nuts, seeds, beans and tofu provide benefits as well. To be most effective, vegetables with lower levels of proteins should be paired with vegetables with higher levels in order to provide a wider range of amino acids.
Supplements, such as protein powders, can also be used to ensure enough protein is included in the diet.
By understanding the government guidelines for protein amounts and considering your individual needs, you can plan a diet that gives you the right amount of protein.