Protein & Your Health

How much do you need?

Protein plays an important role in human health and well-being it:

  • Builds and repairs muscles
  • Boosts antibodies
  • Makes hormones
  • Builds all body tissue
It is important that adults consume 10% to 35% of calories from protein and children 10% to 30%3. This means there is a wide range of healthy intakes of protein.
Did you know?On average, Canadian adults get about 17% of their calories from protein. That is within recommendations! This is within dietary recommendations and demonstrates that Canadians men and women, on average, are eating protein properly as part of a heathy, balanced diet.

"Emerging scientific evidence indicates that intakes of dietary protein moderately greater than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)of 0.8 g protein per kgbody weight for adults may be beneficial for some people such as older adults and physically active individuals. In addition, moderately higher intakes of dietary protein greater than the current RDA may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia.”

Phillips et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015.

Are older adults falling short?

Research suggests that older adults may need moderately more protein that currently recommended to help improve:
  • muscle mass and strength
  • immune system
  • wound healing
  • blood pressure
  • bone health
Protein at every meal may be the best way to ensure adequate intake for older adults. Important sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy foods and beans.

Older people should consume an average daily intake of 1.0 to 1.2 g protein/kg/day, pro- viding 25 to 30 g protein per meal, with the caveat that more research is needed.

S. Leser, The 2013 FAO report on dietary protein quality evaluation in human nutrition: Recommendations and implications. British Nutrition Foundation. Nutrition Bulletin. 38, 421-428

Protein at mealtime: a few Maple Leaf choices

Protein: Enjoy a Variety of Foods

Eating a variety of protein foods is recommended because not all protein is the same.

Protein from foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, isolated soy protein, milk, cheese and yogurt are sources of high-quality protein or 'complete protein.' They have 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones that must come from the foods you eat. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.


Thinking about calories? Calories are simply the amount of energy in a food.

The amount of calories you need depends on many factors such as your age, gender, weight and activity level. Aim to achieve a calorie balance over time to help manage weight. This means a balance between the calories you eat and the calories your body uses to function and be physically active.

Protein quality is set by two things:

  1. The type of amino acids
  2. How well the amino acids are used by the body

Proteins found in plants, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables tend to lack one or more of the 9 essential amino acids. These foods are considered lower-quality protein or'incomplete protein.' 4-5 Enjoying a mix of these proteins can provide you with complete proteins 6.

The importance of meat and poultry in a balanced diet

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, by Health Canada, recommends that children and adults have 1 to 3 servings of meat and alternatives per day depending on age and gender. One Food Guide serving of cooked meat equals 75 grams. Examples include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, prepared meats, fish or seafood.

Meat and poultry contribute many essential nutrients such as complete high quality protein, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorous, pantothenic acid, magnesium and vitamin D37. Iron and zinc in red meat, such as pork and beef, is especially bioavailable, meaning they are easy for the body to use.
Did you know? You can enjoy fresh and prepared meats each day and still meet your nutrition recommendations? Check out these menu ideas!

A Closer Look at Key Nutrients

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for brain development in children and in maintaining a healthy nervous system and red blood cells. Animal protein, including meat, fish, dairy and eggs, are the only natural sources of Vitamin B12.


Iron is essential to every cell in your body because it:
  • Builds red blood cells
  • Helps cells work in the body
  • Carries oxygen from the lungs to every cell in your body
  • Helps the brain work at its best

Animal sources of iron, such as meat, poultry and fish, offer an easy-to-use iron called heme- iron. Plant foods such as grains, beans, lentils and some fruits and vegetables have non-heme iron, which is not as easily used by the body. Meat, poultry and fish also help the body absorb non-heme iron found plant foods, as well as Vitamin C. Vegetarians who do not eat meat, poultry or fish, need almost twice the daily recommended amount of iron as those who do.

In Canada, based on 2009 – 2011 data, 13% of females age 12-19 and 9% of females age 20-49 have depleted iron stores, putting them at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. (Source: Statistics Canada, Iron Deficiency of Canadians, 2012)


Zinc is essential for growth, strong immune systems and healthy pregnancies. Zinc is found in a wide range of foods including meat, poultry, fish, seafood, legumes and grain products.

High quality protein from animal sources helps your body absorb more zinc. Add lean meat, poultry and fish to pasta dishes, stir fries, chili, soups, sandwiches, wraps, and salads to increase your overall zinc absorption. Vegetarians who limit zinc-rich foods, like meat, poultry, fish and seafood, may need up to 50% more zinc.

Is Meat Healthy to Consume?

Meat and poultry deliver high quality protein with all essential amino acids and easy–to-absorb nutrients such as iron and zinc. They are recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet. Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide recommends 1 to 3 servings of meat and alternatives each day, depending on your gender and age.


In May 2015, Dr. David Klurfeld, National Program Leader with the United States Department of Agriculture, investigated the gaps in understanding the relationship between meat and health . He concludes that “moderate intake of a variety of foods that are enjoyed by people remains the best dietary advice.” In his published review he states:

Meat is one of the most nutrient dense foods, providing high-quality protein, heme -iron, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12. Despite these advantages, epidemiological studies have linked consumption of red and processed meat with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. Most observational studies report small, increased relative risk. However, there are many limitations of such studies including inability to accurately estimate intake, lack of pre-specified hypotheses, multiple comparisons, and confounding from many factors including body weight, fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol. All these can limit the reliability of conclusions from these studies. This observational research is heterogeneous and does not meet the standards to infer cause and effect.

5 Easy Ideas for Healthy Balanced Eating with Meat & Poultry
  1. Use lean deli-meats as snacks, such as rolled turkey, ham or roast beef.
  2. Load deli sandwiches with fresh vegetables and fruit, like tomatoes or thin apple or pear slices.
  3. Spread hummus or avocado on your whole grain bread sandwiches instead of condiments
  4. Load your chicken stir-fries with vegetables like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, snow peas and mushrooms.
  5. Visit Canada's Kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner recipe ideas.

Smart Snacking

Snacks can be a part of nutritious eating. Research suggests that snacks can help you:

  1. Limit hunger between meals.
  2. Have energy to get you through the day.
  3. Get the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs for healthy living8.

Will snacking lead to weight gain? The research linking snacking and body weight is inconsistent. More research is needed. It is important to pick your snacks well.

“Healthy snacking is another way to help you get all the nutrients you need to stay healthy and feel energized.”

Dietitians of Canada. Healthy Snacks for Adults. 2013

“Snacks consumed outside of meal-time contribute not only energy, but are important sources of nutrients.”

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Johnson and Anderson, 2010.

Tips for Smart Snacking
  1. Choose snacks that are full of nutrition and part of Canada’s Food Guide. This helps you to limit choices that may be high in calories, fat, sugar or salt.
  2. Take snacks from home to eat at school, work, or on- the- go.
  3. Snack when you are hungry. Don't wait too long between meals, and don't snack when your body is telling you you're full.
  4. Try to include protein in your snacks. It can help curb your hunger and provide energy to get you through your bust days.

Nutritious Snack Ideas with Protein

Snack Suggestions Protein* Gr. Calories*
Morning ½ English muffin, whole wheat + 1 Tbsp peanut butter 8 162
3 slices Natural Selections® Oven Roasted Turkey Slices + 2 brown rice cakes 12 165
Afternoon 10 almonds, unsalted + orange 4 140
PROTINISTM Oven Roasted Chicken 15 40
Evening Cheddar Cheese, 30 grams, + 1 medium apple 9 157

*Canadian Nutrient File and marketplace

3. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fibre, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. 4-5-6. Canadian Nutrient File and marketplace 7. Canadian Nutrient File 8. Eat Right Ontario