Are Americans obsessed with getting enough protein?

Mar 11, 2024, 11:00 AM

getting enough protei...

Many Americans use supplements, bars and drinks like Premier Protein, to increase their protein intake. (Jason E. Miczek/AP)

(Jason E. Miczek/AP)

LOGAN, Utah — The average American man gets about 31% more protein than he needs every single day, and 60% of men are trying to increase their intake even more. What’s going on?

“Nutrition fads come and go,” said Mindy Anhder, registered dietitian nutritionist with Intermountain Health. “After a couple of decades of being a dietician, I’ve seen all sorts of nutrients be popular in the nutrition world. We happen to be in a protein world right now.”

How much do we need?

The average man needs about 56 grams of protein per day. The average woman needs less at 44 grams. But those numbers vary.

“That varies with individuals based on age, gender and activity level,” Anhder explained. “There is a broad spectrum of how much protein we should eat.”

The need for protein changes as we age. Activity level makes a big difference, too.

“Athletes and young people may need more protein,” Anhder said, “but we know that all sources of protein are good for us, whether they come from plants or animals.”

The main concern for dieticians is that, with this increase, we’re not getting enough of other nutrients — like fiber.

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“I think as people have increased their protein over the last few years with a protein craze and a protein push in the nutrition world, that means they’ve pushed out some of those foods that are high in fiber,” Anhder explained. “They’re eating more protein, and that means some foods have to go. We’ve noticed as dieticians that people are eating less fiber than they need.”

How much fiber do we need?

Our need for fiber doesn’t vary as much by age, gender or physical condition.

“Fiber is pretty specific,” Anhder said. “Most Americans should be getting 25 to 35 grams a day of fiber.”

The best sources of fiber for your diet are fruits, veggies and legumes.

“As a dietician, I always want to push people to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Anhder said. “Frozen, canned and fresh fruits and vegetables are all pretty equal in nutrition for vitamins and minerals. If people would eat, no matter what form it comes in, more fruits and vegetables, I think they’ll see improvements in their health.”

Fiber is important in our diet for a lot of reasons.

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“Fiber is not digested, so it goes through the digestive system and is excreted,” said Anhder. “By doing that, it will make you feel full longer. It helps with cardiovascular disease by getting rid of some harmful fats. It can also help with blood sugar control. It can improve digestion.”

Protein drinks, bars and supplements

Is protein deficiency still a thing?

“It can be,” Anhder said, “especially in our elderly population.”

Anhder explained that she does think some people are getting more protein than they need, but we also have the same number of people who are not getting enough.

Many people try to supplement their intake by using drinks, powders and bars. Anhder stressed that these are not made to be meal replacements, but meal supplements for people who may need more.

“Some of those can be beneficial, especially with athletes who may have a higher protein need,” Anhder said. “We also use some of those products for people who have wounds and medical conditions that require higher protein.”

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“You need to realize that those products are not regulated,” she said. “So, when you’re buying supplements of any kind, whether that’s a protein, vitamin, or mineral supplement, you need to know what you’re looking for. You could be buying things that you maybe don’t want.”

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Are Americans obsessed with getting enough protein?