Protein is an essential part of the diet, a necessary component for the growth and repair of tissue. The Institute of Medicine recommends the daily ingestion of eight grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. This amount is needed to prevent the body from slowly breaking down its own tissue. Protein is classified either as “complete,” with all the amino acids the body needs, or “incomplete,” lacking one or more of the essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own.

Meat a good source

Not surprisingly, meat and eggs are a good source of complete protein. The protein derived from fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts is usually incomplete. Proper nutrition depends on finding a balance between the high protein content and the potentially dangerous high saturated fat content of beef and other red meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 dietary guidelines recommend several healthy sources of protein, including:

  • 3 ounces lean meat or poultry – 25 grams
  • One cup milk or yogurt – 8 grams
  • One serving cereal, grains, nuts, vegetables – 2 grams

Watch out for saturated fat

The recent advent of high-protein diets, heavy on red meat and low on carbohydrates, has given rise to greater awareness of the potential health risks associated with high-protein foods:

  • Cardiovascular disease – the recommended dietary allowance for saturated fat is 10 grams or less; protein from lean meat or vegetables can benefit cardiovascular function
  • Juvenile diabetes – proteins found in cow’s milk have been implicated in the development of Type 1 diabetes
  • Cancer – ingestion of excess red meat is linked to colon cancer
  • Osteoporosis – excess protein ingestion releases acids neutralized by calcium

Most people receive all the protein they need from the food they eat every day, but few understand the potential risks of a high-protein diet. In addition to the USDA recommendations, many anti-inflammatory foods, such as salmon and lean poultry, provide a healthier alternative. Always consult a physician before committing to any type of weight-loss program, including a high-protein diet.