Do Americans Eat Too Much Protein?

Some claim that we are eating twice as much protein as we should, but the facts seem to say otherwise. Nutrition Diva gets to the bottom of the controversy.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #306

If you've been a reader or listener of the Nutrition Diva show for a while, you've probably heard me talk about the benefits of eating more protein. Eating more protein (and fewer carbohydrates) can help you manage your appetite and aid with weight loss.

Higher protein meals and snacks help keep blood sugar steady and can give your metabolism a modest boost. Protein also helps build and maintain muscle tissue and supports healthy aging.

Despite all this, you may have heard other experts say that Americans are eating far too much protein. (I know I have.) Let's take a closer look at this seemingly contradictory advice. 


How Much Protein Do We Need?

First, let's review what the Institute of Medicine recommends in terms of protein intake.

Under normal circumstances, you require about 0.8g of protein per kilogram of healthy body weight to maintain basic bodily functions. That translates into a daily recommended intake (or DRI) of 56 grams of protein for men and 46 grams for women.  

See also: Nutrition Diva's Protein Cheat Sheet


Just for reference, a 3-ounce portion of chicken breast provides about 25 grams of protein - or about half the daily requirement. Two eggs provide around 12 grams of protein - about a quarter of the recommended intake.

How Much Protein Do We Eat? 

Recent surveys have found that American men eat an average of 100 grams of protein a day, which is almost twice the recommended daily intake for males. Women eat a bit less - about 70 grams of protein a day, or one and a half time the recommended intake for females. This seems to be the basis for claims that we are eating twice as much protein as we "should."

But that is not quite true. In addition to the DRI for protein, the Institute of Medicine also provides a recommended range for protein intake, suggesting protein should make up 10% to 35% of your total calories. If you take in 2,000 calories per day, 10% to 35% of calories translates to a range of 50 to 175 grams of protein. In other words, the DRI represents the bare minimum.

On average, Americans get about 15% of their calories from protein. And even those folks at the top of the curve - the 90th percentile for protein intake - are only getting about 20% of their calories from protein. That's still well below the recommended maximum of 35%.

This claim that Americans are eating too much protein appears to be completely unsupported by the facts. While average protein intake in America is more than adequate, it is in no way excessive. And, in fact, as I discussed in a recent episode, there is evidence to suggest that many senior citizens would benefit from eating a bit more protein

So if Americans aren't getting too much protein, why are so many people saying we are? I think there are 3 factors at work......


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.