Most Americans have adequate protein in their diet | Food

In my recent article, the headline mistakenly said we can use more protein in our diet. However, as the article stated, almost all Americans have adequate protein or much more than they need in their diet.

Protein is an essential nutrient, meaning it is essential to human health. Together with carbohydrate and fat, protein is one of the three nutrients that supply calories in the human diet. Protein serves many other functions as well, including those that make up skin, hair, muscle and bone, and those that act as enzymes to facilitate chemical reactions in the body.

More necessary proteins are manufactured by the human body using amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Nine of the amino acids are called “essential” because they can’t be manufactured and must come from the diet. A “complete” dietary protein is one in which all the essential amino acids are found, mostly foods from animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.

Others are “incomplete,” lacking one or more of the nine essential amino acids. Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds are generally incomplete.

Amino acids in rice and beans “complete” each other.

However, we can eat foods in which the amino acids complement each other. When you eat these foods together, they provide all the essential amino acids. Examples are bread with peanut butter, rice and beans, corn and beans, bean soup and crackers, hummus (chickpeas and tahini, or sesame seed paste).

In general, combining grains with legumes or nuts with seeds yields complete protein.

Most people in western countries consume much more protein than they need, usually from animal foods. Vegans, who avoid all foods from animal sources, need to be a bit more aware of the quality of protein in the foods they eat so they will have all the complete protein needed for health.

TASTE edamame

Edamame, a popular form of soy.

Even if you aren’t vegan, it can be a good idea to add protein from plant foods, which contain less fat and saturated fat, as well as a variety of other nutrients, than animal foods. Soy is one plant protein that is complete and is also a good source of healthy fats and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that may be good for you). It’s usually served as tempeh or tofu, and soy milk is a popular replacement for milk. Edamame, a green soybean usually served in its pod, is another popular form of soy. Less well-known vegetable sources of complete protein include amaranth, quinoa, hemp seed, and chia.


Ellen Glovsky is a Key Biscayne resident, published author and Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach. Her work focuses on helping people explore and enhance their relationship with food, using a “Health At Every Size” approach. She is also involved in the island community with her work on KBCF’s Women’s Giving Circle. If you have questions you would like answered, you can reach her at To learn more, visit


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