Keith I. Block, M.D. follow us read our blog

Ask Dr. Block

Recommended Protein Servings

Question: If you would, please clarify your recommended serving sizes of protein. In your book you recommend avoiding high-protein diets. As I interpret your table (pg 104) in the 1500 calorie column, the quantities you recommend seem to be what I would consider high-protein and I wonder if I’m misreading the chart. If 1 serving of fish is 4 oz, then 5 ½ servings would be the equivalent of 22 oz of fish (or 11 eggs) per day. The legume serving makes sense to me (2 ½ cups per day) but the fish & eggs seem proportionately high and seem to be not only high-protein but exceed the total calories. Also, would 2 Tbs of whey powder be approximately 1 serving? Thank you so very much for this book. It is an absolute blessing.

Answer: The clue to answering your question lies in the advice given on page 102: “Be sure to eat a variety of protein foods over the course of a week.” The 5 ½ servings per day of protein in the 1500 calorie column is correct. I’d note that the diet on page 104 is the LOC Core Diet, recommended for patients who are not undergoing treatment or in a crisis phase – for these patients, the protein recommendations will be different. For readers not familiar with the chart on page 104, different serving sizes are given for different food types, as you mention – 4 oz for fish, ½ cup for legumes – because fish, eggs, soy and legumes all have different concentrations of protein. Each calorie level also has a recommended number of daily servings – 5 ½ in the case of the 1500-1700 calorie diet plan. The advice to eat a variety of protein foods over a week means that you should not eat only a single type of protein food during a day. You’re quite correct that if you ate only fish for your 5 ½ servings in a day, you would get 22 oz of fish, way too much protein and way too many calories. Thus, you should eat, for instance, one serving of fish, 1 serving of eggs, and the remainder from legumes during a day.

All the figures on page 104 are determined by nutritional calculations done by our registered dietitians. And they are based on an assumption that one would eat fish 3 times per week, soy foods twice a week, egg whites or other lean protein once a day and the remainder of the servings as legumes (beans such as chickpeas, kidney beans etc). When weekly protein intake is calculated based on this model, the total number of grams per week is 469 for the 1500 -1700 calorie diet plan (this includes protein in vegetables, dairy alternatives and grains as well as protein foods). This amounts to 67 grams per day, definitely within the range of normal protein consumption recommended by the World Health Organization. True high protein diets usually recommend 140 grams of protein or higher per day. This is way too much protein for a normal, healthy person – and for someone with health problems, like kidney disease, it could be a real problem.

We don’t want to hold patients to a strict daily distribution of servings of fish, eggs, legumes and other proteins per day, since this kind of inflexibility just sets people up for problems. This is why we simply recommend that you vary your protein sources over the course of a week. If you go fishing in the Florida Keys and haul in a great catch, and you want to use all you protein servings on that 22 oz of fish for one day – well, I’d not recommend it, but if you insist … The next day, though, you’d better get back to your legumes!

As to your question about whey protein powder -- in our calculations we used a serving size of 3 tablespoons. This amount was based on the whey formula that we use with our patients at the clinic. Different whey protein powders have varied concentrations of protein, but the general serving size is 2-3 tablespoons.