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Research suggests we’ve been underestimating how much protein we need.

Before you go thinking, “here they go again, changing their minds about what we should eat,” it’s helpful to keep in mind that nutrition is a young science. We are constantly refining what we know.  

So here it is.

A new, more precise way to determine protein needs suggests we may have been underestimating requirements by as much as 30% in adults and about 60% in children. 1 Nutrition scientists have known that nitrogen-balance studies, used to figure out how much protein we need, have their flaws.

Basically, they measure how much nitrogen we eat (via protein) and how much comes out (in urine). It’s not just the method that’s imprecise but some argue how the data is analyzed is faulty too.

A fairly new, more precise method that tracks the nitrogen in our body using isotopes (sounds scary but is safe) suggests we need more protein than previously thought. 

Bottom line: Given the protein recommendations are 10-35% of calories and Canadians typically eat on the lower end of this range (17%), a slight increase in how much protein we eat could be beneficial.

Practically, that might mean having two eggs and one slice of toast instead of one egg and two slices of toast. 

While we can get protein from a number of foods, animal sources of protein tend to be the richest: meat, eggs, fish, dairy.

 

1. Elango R, Humayun M, O Ball R et al. Protein requirement of healthy school-age children determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation method. Am J Clin Nutr., Nov. 2011.

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