Age and Racial/Ethnic Differences in Dietary Sources of Protein, NHANES, 2011–2016

Jeannette M. Beasley, Melanie J. Firestone, Collin J. Popp, Rienna Russo, Stella S. Yi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dietary protein serves a pivotal role in providing the body with essential amino acids, which are required for the maintenance of body proteins, and the assimilation of structural and functional components required for basic survival. Understanding how dietary protein sources potentially vary for different population subgroups will allow for future nutrition interventions to be more targeted for specific needs. Objective: The purpose of this analysis was to identify the top ten food category sources of dietary protein by age and race and ethnicity in a nationally representative sample. Methods: Cross-sectional data on adults (18+ years) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011–2016 with one 24-h dietary recall were analyzed (n = 15,697). Population proportions were calculated based on protein intake (g/day) for What We Eat In America food categories. Results: The analytic sample (n = 15,697) was 15.0% Hispanic (95% CI [12.1, 17.9], 65.0% non-Hispanic White (95% CI [60.8, 69.3]), 11.5% non-Hispanic Black (95% CI [9.1, 13.9]), 5.4% non-Hispanic Asian (95% CI [4.3, 6.6]), and 3.1% other (95% CI [2.5, 3.6]). In all racial and ethnic groups, as well as age categories, chicken (whole pieces) was the top-ranked source of dietary protein. In addition to chicken (whole pieces), beef (excludes ground), eggs and omelets, and meat mixed dishes food categories ranked in the top ten sources of protein for every race/ethnicity. Only two solely plant-based proteins appeared in the top ten sources: beans, peas and legumes for Hispanics, and nuts and seeds for Other. For all age categories, beef (excludes ground) was among the top five sources and egg/omelets appear in the top ten sources. Conclusion: The top ten sources of protein accounted for over 40% of dietary protein irrespective of race/ethnicity or age category, having major implications for the sustainability of our nation's food supply. Public health strategies that encourage diversity in protein sources in food preparation and incorporate legumes and nuts along with poultry have the potential to shift the overall population protein intake distribution toward improving overall diet quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number76
JournalFrontiers in Nutrition
StatePublished - Jun 26 2020


  • African American
  • aging
  • Asian American
  • epidemiology
  • Hispanic American
  • nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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