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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How Much Meat Does a Person Really Need?

I grew up in a time when it was assumed that a typical serving of meat would weigh about 4 ounces. It was also assumed that one would eat a full serving of meat at each of two meals per day. That would be a half-pound of meat per person. You've seen my grocery lists. You know that my family doesn't eat nearly that quantity of meat, daily. Our family eats far less meat, making up the needed protein in beans, eggs, grains and dairy. I was curious, though, just how much protein does a human body require daily? This is what I found out.

For every 2.2 pounds of body weight, an adult needs .8 grams of protein. So, for an adult woman weighing 125 pounds, that would be about 45 grams of protein. It doesn't need to all come from meat (or any of it, really), and ideally should be spread out over the course of the day.

Just some "for instances"
  • A 3-ounce portion of beef averages 21 to 24 grams of protein. 
  • 3.5 ounces of cooked, lean chicken breast (no skin) has about 30 grams of protein. 
  • A chicken drumstick has 11 grams. 
  • Cooked fish has about 6 grams of protein per ounce. 
  • A 6-ounce can of tuna has 40 grams. 
  • A single large egg has 6 grams, and a cup of milk has 8 grams. 
  • I don't drink milk, but I do eat cheese. 1 ounce of cheddar has 7 or 8 grams of protein. 
  • A half-cup of cooked beans has between 7 and 10 grams of protein.
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter have 8 grams of protein
An average chicken breast half (meaning, one lobe) weighs about 5.25 ounces today (up from 4 ounces in the 1980s, yes, chickens have gotten bigger!). If I cook two breast halves for our family of five, that's 10.50 ounces of lean chicken, or about 90 grams of protein, which results in about 18 grams of protein per person.

If I figure that I need roughly 45 grams per day, I could meet that requirement with what appears to be very little meat: 1 ounce of cheddar with a breakfast of one slice of whole wheat bread and some fruit; a lunch which has 1 egg, plus whole grains, fruit/veggies and a mug of tea latte made with soy milk; a snack of some almonds in the afternoon; and then I would only need 19 grams of protein with my dinner. If my dinner had beef in it, I would only need 2.5 ounces of beef to meet that 19 grams. However, I would likely be eating whole grains and veggies which contain some protein at dinner, thus reducing my meat-protein requirement to about 2 ounces, or 15 grams of protein. The meat could also be chicken legs, in which case one and a half chicken legs would be plenty of protein for my meal. If it were lean chicken breast that I was using for my animal protein, I would only need 1.75 ounces, or 1/3 of a breast half.

I just thought all of this was really enlightening. I know that my family has eaten on the low end of the meat spectrum, but I never fully realized that we were actually eating the healthy amount. We know that meat can be one of the more expensive items in the shopping cart; eating less meat will not only save money, but it will still be a healthy option for many of us.

A further way to save money -- a typical restaurant beef steak weighs 6 ounces. I would reach my daily intake of protein in a single steak dinner. This is all the more reason to split meals when dining out.

The adult requirements listed above assume a healthy, adult body, free from medical considerations, pregnancy, or heavy physical activity. When I was pregnant with twins (and growing two human beings inside of me), I was advised to consume 90-110 grams of protein per day, double what I would eat normally. This post is not to advise anyone to change their eating habits; however, if you have been eating less meat than you believe is customary, this post is meant to illuminate what some medical professionals recommend. For me, personally, this information allows me to rest assured that my family and I are getting enough protein on a daily basis. There have been meals when I looked at our plates and wondered if there was enough protein food.

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  1. It is interesting how skewed American portions of items are.
    According to my doctor, for medical reasons, I need to consume 65 to 80 grams of protein a day. My daughter has to up her intake as well. However, I do try to make a point to include some of the alternative sources of protein. Yet, while they work well for me, they do not work well for my husband and daughter. I find cooking two and three different diets to be too taxing and rather expensive.

    1. Hi Busy Bee,
      Oh yes, that sounds like cooking for a small restaurant. What have you done to prepare the correct foods for each of you? I would guess that you could alternate cooking for each specific diet, in large enough portions so that each individual received their foods, but got leftovers for 2 additional days.

      When one daughter was needing to gain weight rapidly, a few years ago, it meant that we all were eating her diet, and I think we all gained some weight. I did what I could to alter the rest of the family's meals, but that wasn't always possible when heavy cream was what was used to thicken a soup or casserole sauce. While casseroles and soups may be inexpensive dishes for feeding a family, they are nearly impossible to separate out within each portion to allow for more protein, less fat, fewer carbs, etc on an individual basis, once cooked.

      Wishing you well with this, Busy Bee. Have a great day!

  2. About a year ago, I tracked what I was eating and found that I was not eating enough protein. While it should be easy to do, I have to make an effort to get enough. But, I'm trying. It's probably time for me to track things again.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I understand. I will sometimes fall short on protein for just myself, because I don't care for a lot of meat, and would prefer to eat veggies and carbs for dinner. I'll serve the rest of the family what they need, but just not be as interested in the meat portion for myself. Smelling the meat as it cooks will put me off from eating it.

      Have you ever tried including a protein shake for part of your meals? I had to use a protein powder when I was pregnant with my daughters, as it was the only way to get my protein intake high enough, given how queasy I can get when I smell meat cooking. If I recall correctly, the protein shake used as a snack in the afternoon, provided about 20 grams of protein in about 250 calories. It was an easy way for me to increase protein. Eating more boneless, skinless white meat chicken or canned tuna is another way to boost protein without a lot of extra food. At least now, tracking foods is relatively easy using an online fitness program. Good luck with this.

      Have a lovely day, live and learn!

    2. I have not done the protein shake route as I'm not really a shake/smoothie person, but I try to have a protein bars or hard boiled eggs for snacks. That helps.

    3. Boiled eggs are good protein, for me, too. Also, cold slices of leftover cooked chicken breast make a quick energy boost for me, instead of a high carb snack.

  3. I did not grow up eating a lot of meat, it was portioned out to feed a family of 5, including my 2 brothers. My now Ex, grew up in a much wealthier family and big 'ole slabs of meat were expected at the table, especially red meat. Initially, they thought I was being shy or polite when I asked for just 1/2 of the steak that they had bought to cook just for me (each person would get a huge steak, plus sides). I had to insist that no, 1/2 of that amount was just fine, thank you very much. : ) I do continue to eat meat, just less and less so both for economy as well as health. I consumed almost no meat yesterday (save a bit of Ital sausage and 1 slice of Pepperoni on my lunch pizza). I didn't miss it, I had tons of vegetables, dried fruit, beans. Today looks like another meatless day: whole grain cr of wheat, canned pineapple, coffee for bfst. Canned NE clam chowder, salad, crackers for lunch. Quinoa veggie burgers, oven fries, carrots for supper. I feel that we eat well. Co-workers would always comment at how healthy my lunch leftovers were.

    1. Hi Carol,
      Your Ex's family meals sound like what one would typically see in a 50's - 60's cookbook photo, of everyone gathered around the table with a big hunk of meat on their plates. I think this was typical for many families, 45-50 years ago. I also think more men worked physically taxing jobs, back then, and their bodies would have required more protein to maintain muscle mass, so this may have worked for them, then. But it seems that those physically demanding jobs are fewer these days, and a lot of adults have more sedentary jobs and hobbies.

      We go through cycles, in our own family, of eating meat almost everyday for weeks on end, and then it's back to vegetarian meals for several weeks. I try to make sure that there is enough lean protein on a regular basis, and always a good protein source available for family members to choose for lunches to take with them.

      I love cream of wheat. your breakfast, today sounds delicious and balanced. I hope your day is off to a great start, Carol!

  4. Wow! I have never analyzed the foods I make. The only thing I do is make sure I cook from scratch whenever possible. Maybe I need to re-think this.

    Growing up, dad worked hard and mom always had meat and potatoes and vegetables on the table. Obviously, that is what I was used to as was my husband. So that is what we followed with our kids. Our variations included more casseroles and things like meatloaf, lasagna that had meat in them. Today, meat is so much more expensive that I shop for deals and only deals thus our meat consumption has decreased. I never offer a full steak to one person but rather the steak is divided amongst the people eating the meal. Our pizza had about 1/2 pound of sausage split over two pizzas and a few slices of pepperoni on top. Tonight will be about 1/2 to 3/4 lb. ground beef for our spaghetti and will be eaten over two days. I guess you could say we WERE bigger meat eaters years ago than what we are today all due to cost of meat these days.

    We're not big bean eaters since hubby can't digest those very well and nuts aren't something I buy often but hubby loves his peanut butter and we like eggs and cheese. I'm sure we're getting enough protein but I have heard my hubby say that he feels his body needs protein.

    Interesting subject.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Your husband may need more protein, simply by being larger and maybe doing more physical work. One of the medical considerations with needing more protein is recovering from injuries or illness. When he was recovering from his surgery, a while back, his body would have required more protein to do the repair work.

      Eggs and cheese have been my go-to protein source over the years. Eggs, especially, give me an increase in energy. Would your husband eat hard-boiled eggs as a snack, for extra protein when he feels he needs it? If he snacked on a high protein food, then you could keep your cooking, as is, for all your other meals. Boiling eggs is a very easy kitchen chore.

      Meat is so expensive, isn't it? Even though prices have moderated, in my area a bit, beef is just incredibly expensive. In 2014-2015, we didn't buy any beef at all, it was simply too expensive. Now it seems that cheese prices are too high for our budget. I bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts, yesterday for $1.47/lb. Cheese is currently about $2.50/lb. It makes more sense to use chicken than cheese, for our family right now.

      Anyway, I hope that your day is off to a great start, Alice!

  5. You are such a good researcher, Lili. This is very interesting.

    Sometimes I feel like I am constantly evaluating my eating habits to strengthen/maintain my health. I think my protein intake got better after I got married--men have a way of insisting on eating enough of that!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I think I agree on men being the catalyst to get us to eat more meat, at least in my case that is true! When I was single, I ate a lot of pasta and veggies, with a tiny amount of cheese. I occasionally had a turkey sandwich, but with just a small amount of meat.
      To eat enough protein, I do have to be mindful at every meal, to include some sort of protein food, even if it's just a handful of nuts.

      Have a great day, Kris!

  6. Very interesting. I tend to eat less protein over the winter months, but now that it's getting warm and CatMan and I are biking nearly 100 miles per week, I find that I'm just hungry all the time and craving protein - especially the day after a long ride. I try to get my protein from a variety of sources, but I find chicken seems to be the most satisfying in terms of calming the growling tummy!

    1. Hi Cat,
      and yours would be a great example of when doing heavy physical work (like long bike rides) that one needs to increase protein intake. I do like lean chicken for protein, myself. Chicken or eggs will usually give me a good boost of energy. 100 miles per week is a lot! I would imagine that you eat like a horse during biking season!
      Enjoy your day, Cat!

  7. We don't eat a lot of meat in our home, but we do eat a lot of beans and we will eat eggs occasionally. We will also eat cheese as it is an inexpensive choice when compared to meat. The meat I do buy is usually either on sale or on markdown. I know we fall into the healthier guidelines for meat consumption. It also helps me to keep our food budget lower in cost.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      From how you have described your meals in your home, it does sound like you get plenty of protein without eating a lot of meat. Eating beans really does stretch the budget, as pound for pound, beans are a fraction of the cost of meat. Plus beans have a type of fiber that is good for heart health.
      Have a wonderful day, Belinda!

  8. Meat is certainly our most expensive line item in our grocery budget. We used to eat a lot more casseroles, pastas & such. Since my husband & I radically changed our eating habits a few years ago to a lower carb lifestyle, those have gone by the wayside (I still serve pasta to the kids, but we have our spaghetti sauce on spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles, as an example.)

    Since implementing this change, my husband & I have lost over 100 lbs collectively. He is no longer on his daily Priolosec, his good cholesterol is up, bad cholesterol way down. (The dr. now says he has a 1% chance of having a heart attack). I no longer fear developing Type II diabetes (after 3 pregancies with gestational diabetes). We haven't been to the dr, except for annual check ups (& me for a hormone check) for the last few years.

    The trade-off for us has been that our grocery budget has gone up. We have a big financial outlay on the horizon, but have decided that we will leave our grocery budget where it is, as we wouldn't even be considering what we are about to do if we weren't in such good health. We will have to pinch pennies in other areas.

    All that to say, grocery budgets are very personal. Each person has different priorities in the areas of food, but also in their financial lives in general.

    I've always thought you've done an outstanding job with your grocery budget, Lili, and your family is well fed. I think that it's good to rethink our priorites once in awhile and maybe we change something we're doing, maybe we don't. Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      wow, that's fantastic about your and your husband's health improvement! You're right, it is all personal, and fortunately we do all get to make our own choices. In particular with your situation, you could look at it like this -- spending extra on healthy groceries, now, could mean that you and your husband can continue in productive lives for a longer stretch, on earth, which is more cost-effective, as well as more pleasant.
      You've alluded to a change on your horizon. I hope that it all goes smoothly, whatever it is.

      Have a great day, Melissa!

  9. Thank you for your research, and for bringing up this topic. I think the amount of protein my husband and I need is about half of what is usually recommended for younger, active adults, so maybe 25-30g/day, which I think we're getting on average. Our lunch and dinner extras which are consumed regularly everyday (quinoa, bean patty, tofu, natto, gelatin and milk) yield about 17g protein/person/day, plus the entree at each meal, some kind of breakfast protein, often nuts for snacks, and garden vegetables. Essential protein doesn't have to be eaten every day, since protein can be stored.

    I think most Americans are probably eating more protein than is needed, and that consumption amounts to food waste.


    1. Hi YHF,
      There really are a lot of options for where to find protein. The traditional Western view of getting enough protein has relied on heavy meat consumption. But there are so many other healthy and delicious options, as you bring up, like quinoa and tofu. It sounds like you and your husband have found what works for you both.

      Have a great day, YHF!


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