protein for arthritis diet

How Much Protein Do You Really Need in Your Arthritis Diet?

From granola bars to pasta, the flood of products touting high protein might have you wondering if you should be getting more protein. For most Americans, that’s probably not the case, and the packaged products filling grocery shelves may not be the best sources, because many high-protein packaged foods are also high in added sugars and calories.

Who Can Benefit?

The amino acids that make up the protein in your steak and yogurt are building blocks of the human body, forming everything from muscles to bones to cartilage, so getting enough protein is important. “If arthritis symptoms are debilitating and activity is compromised, getting enough protein is essential to holding on to muscle mass and function,” says Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, professor of aging and health at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. And if you’re trying to shed a few pounds, protein-rich foods can help you feel full longer and avoid snacking, he adds.

How Much Do You Need?

In the U.S., the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram daily (about 58 grams for a 160-pound person). Paddon-Jones recommends about 87 grams daily for a 160-pound person. The average American man eats about 100 grams a day and the average woman eats about 75 grams daily. (Four ounces of chicken has 26 grams.) People who eat vegan diets, who are on an elimination diet and those who are very active may need more protein, but most people get enough without supplements or protein-fortified foods, says registered dietitian Heidi Turner, medical nutrition therapist at the Seattle Arthritis Clinic, University of Washington Medicine Health System. (Eating more protein probably won’t help inflammatory arthritis symptoms, she adds.)

Picking Your Proteins

“Ideally, you’re going to get your nutrients, including proteins, from whole foods,” says Turner. “Using nuts, nut butters and seeds is going to be more nutrient-dense than a highly processed food that has added protein powder to a low-nutrient product.” Paddon-Jones recommends spreading out your protein intake through the day instead of simply loading up on more.

“If you’re eating a diet that includes several sources of protein from both animals and plants throughout the day, then protein inadequacy is likely not an issue,” he says. But if you eat more than your body needs, those extra calories will be stored as fat.


Food Protein (grams)
Black beans (1 cup) 15
Chick peas (1 cup) 15
Lentils (1/2 cup) 8
Peanut butter (2 tbs) 8
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce) 9
Quinoa (1 cup) 8
Tempeh (4 ounces) 20
Tofu (4 ounces) 12

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