This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.

almonds in bowl
Photo by Nomadic Lass.

Protein: It’s the center of the American plate and the central component of many weight-loss diets. And if you spend much time looking at ads in gyms or men’s magazines, you might think it’s the most important nutrient ever discovered. Granted, protein is essential for body processes like cell growth and repair, so if you don’t get enough of it there can be serious health consequences. But how much protein do we really need?

Less than you might think (or than marketers of high-protein products would have you believe). The CDC reports that most Americans get more than enough protein, so the average person doesn’t need to worry about deficiencies. According to American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommendations, most active adults only need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. (A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.) So a person who weighs 125 pounds needs 45 to 57 g of protein in a day; for someone who weighs 175 pounds, it’s 65 to 80 g. Serious athletes need a bit more, but we’ll get to that in a minute.