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Protein: How Much is Enough?

Protein is essential to life. It is present in every cell in the body. Protein functions as a “builder.” It aids in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. The body uses protein to build and repair tissues. It also functions to make hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals in the body. In the midst of cancer and cancer treatment, your body still has to maintain all of these functions. The cancer alone places the human body under additional stress increasing the need for protein. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are all factors that increase the protein required for the body to carry out daily functions. Protein is unique in that it is not stored by the body like carbohydrates and fats. It is imperative that protein is consumed on a daily basis.

Divide body ideal weight in pounds by 2.

The result of dividing your ideal weight in pounds by 2 is the minimum number of grams of protein your body needs on a daily basis. This is about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (1kg = 2.2 pounds). The protein requirement could reach 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight if the body is experiencing extreme muscle wasting as a result of cancer or cancer treatment. A registered dietitian can assess protein status and determine individual protein requirements.

Know the best sources of protein.

Protein is made up of amino acids that have different functions in the body. A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids. Good examples of complete proteins are all meats such as beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, and fish. Eggs and dairy products are also complete sources of protein. These are all very high quality protein sources. Try to choose the leanest cuts of meats such as lean beef, white meat chicken or turkey, and fish. Other good sources of protein include beans, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarians should consult a registered dietitian to make sure enough high quality protein from vegetable sources is being consumed.

Eat a source of protein at all meals and snacks.

The best way to ensure that the body is getting enough protein is to include it in all meals and snacks. Here is a short list of some foods and their approximate protein content:

Food Choice

Grams of Protein

4 ounces of meat

28 grams

2 tablespoons of peanut butter

8 grams

½ cup of beans

10 grams

1 egg

6 grams

1 cup milk

8 grams

¼ cup almonds

8 grams

¼ cup sunflower seeds

6 grams

½ cup cottage cheese

15 grams

Learn some ways to increase protein.

There are several ways to increase protein. Here are a few easy ways to add protein:

  • Add beans, cheese, nuts, meat, or fish to salad.
  • Include a protein source in all snacks. For example, cottage cheese and fruit, cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers, and trail mix are all snack choices that contain protein.
  • Add dry milk powder to regular milk or other foods made with milk.
  • Eat protein foods first before filling up on other low protein foods.

If food sources of protein are not enough, then consider a supplement.

A protein supplement may be appropriate if protein needs cannot be met through food alone. Protein is found in both powder and liquid form. The powder form can be mixed with water or milk. It can also be added to a milkshake. The liquid form can be found in ready-to-drink liquid nutrition supplements or protein drinks. These can be found at health food, grocery, pharmacies, and discount stores. Consult a registered dietitian for advice on which protein supplement is appropriate for you.