It might surprise you to know that the average American diet actually contains too much protein. Thanks to today’s cultural factors, we as a nation are overconsuming it. Americans tend to like larger serving sizes, meat at every meal, protein bar and protein powder fads. Then there’s the false advertisement that you need more protein in your diet than you actually do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 10% to 35% of your daily calories to come from protein. This means about 46 grams of protein for adult women and 56 grams for adult men. Because your body only needs a certain amount of protein, the excess (if not burned off by your daily activity) is stored as fat.

Even if you are burning off the extra calories, the problem with overconsuming protein is our main source: animal products. Animal products such as meat, milk, yogurt and cheese can be high in a type of fat called “saturated fat.” While each is a great source of protein, when this type of fat is eaten in excess amounts, it can elevate LDL – or “bad” cholesterol levels. Additionally, when you’re eating extra protein, you’re usually trading it out for other essential food groups such as fruits and vegetables, which are nature’s own source of low-calorie, “healthy” foods.

But don’t make meat the enemy! When choosing protein, look for the low-fat options such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Also choose to replace meat at some meals with plant sources of protein such as nut butters, beans or legumes. While you also want to limit the amounts of red meat consumed, as they have the highest levels of saturated fat, it’s important to remember these meats are one of the best sources in the diet for protein, iron, B12 and zinc. The key is portion size. Whenever consuming meat, aim for a 3-ounce serving, which should be about the size of a deck of cards.

If you are going to choose cuts of meat with higher fat content, trim off as much fat as you can before cooking and pour off the melted fat after cooking. You can also use cooking methods such as baking, broiling, stewing and grilling, which limit the need to add oils.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Heart Association

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