How much protein should we eat?

The Dietary Reference Values for protein are based on estimates of need. For adults, an average requirement of 0.6g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day is estimated. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day in adults. This equates to approximately 56g/day and 45g/day for men and women aged 19-50 years respectively. There is an extra requirement for growth in infants and children and for pregnant and breast feeding women.

Any excess protein can be used to provide energy. 1g of protein provides 17kJ (4 kcal) but carbohydrate, and to a lesser extent fat, should be the main sources of dietary energy. At present, protein provides around 16% of energy on average in the British diet.

Current protein intakes

The average daily intake of protein in the UK is 88g for men and 64g for women, which is more than sufficient: it exceeds the Dietary Reference Values for protein. Foods vary in the amount of protein they provide but the main sources include meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, cereals and cereal products (e.g. bread), nuts and pulses (beans and lentils). The most common sources of protein in the British diet are shown in figure 1.