Understanding Dietary Proteins

Understanding Dietary Proteins

Understanding Dietary Proteins

What Is Protein?

Proteins are biomolecules made up of amino acids and play an important role in building muscles, tissues, hormones, and enzymes in the body.1,2 Of the common 20 amino acids, eight must be consumed in our diets for proper human growth, metabolism, and tissue repair and maintenance.

What Is the Recommended Protein Intake?


The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein in healthy individuals is 0.8 g of protein/kg of body weight.2 The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends a daily intake of 5.5 ounces of protein for a 2,000 kcal-diet.3 Protein subgroup weekly recommendations are as follows: 26 oz/week of meats, poultry, and eggs; 8 oz/week of seafood; 5 oz/week of nuts, seeds, and soy products.


What Are the Different Sources of Proteins? 

Meats, Poultry, Eggs – The DGA recommends that meats and poultry should be consumed in lean forms (eg, chicken breast, ground turkey) and from fresh, frozen, or canned sources. Processed meats such as sausages, hams, hot dogs, and luncheon meats are not recommended as the primary source of protein.

Seafood – Fish and shellfish are rich sources of protein.3 Seafoods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy polyunsaturated fat, but low in methylmercury include salmon, sardines, trout, anchovies, and Pacific oysters. Crab, shrimp, and tilapia are also lower in methylmercury.

Nuts, Seeds, and Soy Products – Consuming plant proteins from beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and soy products (eg, tofu) can yield a healthy dietary pattern.3 Replacing high-fat or processed meat with plant-based sources of protein can lower sodium and saturated fat consumption while allowing adequate protein intake.


Protein Intake & Diabetes? 

Diet is one of the key lifestyle modifications individuals with diabetes can make; as such, the role of dietary protein has always been a topic of interest in diabetes management.4 Although more research is needed, recent evidence suggests that plant protein is more beneficial for diabetes management than animal protein.5–7 In an analysis of large prospective cohort studies, increased intake of animal protein (eg, red meat, processed meat, poultry, eggs) was directly associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). In contrast, increased intake of plant protein (eg, whole grains, nuts) was associated with a decreased risk of T2DM. Similarly, another large population-based, prospective, cohort study found that greater intake of animal protein, but not plant protein, was associated with increased risk of prediabetes, T2DM, and insulin resistance.6


1. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118.
2. Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food Funct. 2016;7(3):1251-1265. doi:10.1039/C5FO01530H
3. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
4. American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2022 Abridged for Primary Care Providers. Clin Diabetes. 2022;40(1):10-38. doi:10.2337/cd22-as01
5. Li J, Glenn AJ, Yang Q, et al. Dietary Protein Sources, Mediating Biomarkers, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: Findings From the Women’s Health Initiative and the UK Biobank. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(8):1742-1753. doi:10.2337/dc22-0368
6. Chen Z, Franco OH, Lamballais S, et al. Associations of Specific Dietary Protein With Longitudinal Insulin Resistance, Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes: The Rotterdam Study. Clin Nutr. 2020;39(1):242-249. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2019.01.021
7. Ke Q, Chen C, He F, et al. Association Between Dietary Protein Intake and Type 2 Diabetes Varies by Dietary Pattern. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2018;10(1):48. doi:10.1186/s13098-018-0350-5 



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