Estimates of animal and plant protein intake in US adults: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1991

J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Jul;99(7):813-20. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00193-5.


Objective: To describe the sources of protein intake in a sample of the US adult population and among subgroups defined by race-ethnicity, age, and gender.

Design: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1991, is a stratified random sample of the total civilian noninstitutionalized population, drawn from the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. For all foods consumed by the participants, based on a 24-hour dietary recall, protein sources and the contribution of each protein type to the total protein intake were determined.

Subjects: Adult participants in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 7,924).

Statistical analyses: Weighted total, age-specific, and age-adjusted mean protein intakes were calculated using SAS and WesVarPC. Statistical differences were determined by 2-tailed t tests.

Results: The main protein source in the American diet is animal protein (69%). Meat, fish, and poultry protein combined contributed the most to animal protein (42%), followed by dairy protein (20%). Grains (18%) contributed the most to plant protein consumption. Women consumed a lower percentage of beef (14%) and pork (7%) protein than did men (18% and 9%, respectively). Women also consumed a higher percentage of poultry (13%), dairy (22%), and fruit and vegetable (11%) protein than did men (11%, 19%, and 9%, respectively). Blacks reported eating a higher percentage of poultry (18%) and pork (11%) protein and a lower percent of dairy protein (14%) than did whites (12%, 7%, and 22%, respectively) and Mexican-Americans (11%, 8%, and 17%, respectively). Mexican-Americans consumed a higher percentage of legume (7%) and egg (7%) protein than did whites (4% and 4%, respectively) and blacks (4% and 5%, respectively). Whites consumed a higher percentage of grain protein (19%) than did blacks (16%) and Mexican-Americans (15%).

Conclusions: These results show that, although the percentage of total energy from protein may be similar among race-ethnicities and between men and women, their sources of protein are different. These differences should be taken into account when providing nutrition education for specific populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Intake
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat
  • Mexican Americans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Plant Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Poultry
  • Sex Factors
  • Swine
  • United States


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Plant Proteins