While the health benefits of carbohydrates and fat seem quite debatable, most people would agree that protein plays a vital role in your diet. We consume protein daily without even knowing it. This prevents deficiency and keeps us healthy.
In fact, there have been several studies that show how a high-protein diet provides us with lots of benefits in terms of metabolic health and even weight loss. But what is protein, and how does it work to help us get healthy?
Why You Need Protein
Protein is a macronutrient that plays a vital role in the building of muscle. You can easily find protein in meat and other animal by-products like milk. However, it is also present in different foods like nuts and seeds.
Now, protein is not the only large molecule our body needs for survival. Fat and carbohydrates are macronutrients too. And like fat and carbs, protein provides energy for our body. Essentially, we need a large number of macronutrients to survive.
Chemically speaking, proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. When proteins go through our digestive system and have been broken down, amino acids remain in our system. In turn, our body uses this organic material to help our body synthesize other compounds, repair tissue, grow, and break down food. According to information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in order for us to build muscle mass, we need protein.
In addition to building mass, proteins also act as a neurotransmitter. Yes, proteins supply our brains with power too. The neurons in our brain are made up of fat, but for them to function well, protein is necessary.
Benefits of Consuming Protein
Aside from the apparent fact that proteins are essential in our body’s processes, here are some scientifically proven facts as to why proteins should be a significant part of your diet.
Suppresses Your Appetite and Reduces Cravings
The three significant macronutrients we consume can affect our bodies in different ways. Still, studies have shown that protein helps you feel full even by just eating a smaller portion. Protein also reduces your hunger by stimulating the production of the peptide YY hormone, which helps you feel satiated. It also inhibits the creation of the hormone ghrelin, which triggers hunger.
If you have a problem with cravings and late-night snacking, increasing the amount of protein in your diet can help you control this. A study on overweight men showed that, by increasing their daily protein intake by 25 percent of their typical calories, their cravings had been reduced to about 60 percent.
Another study showed that overweight teens who eat high-protein breakfast have fewer cravings within the day. The experiment also showed that the function of dopamine improved significantly.
Makes You Stronger and Increases Your Muscle Mass
As mentioned, proteins are the building blocks of muscles. By consuming the right amount of protein daily, you can maintain your muscle mass. Thus, increasing your protein intake will promote muscle growth and, eventually, your strength.
There have been several studies that back up this claim. One review was even able to prove that the increase in protein consumption reduces the chances of losing muscle mass during weight loss. This particular study was conducted on 20 young athletes undergoing a short-term hypo energetic weight loss program to improve their performance.
Great for Your Bones
There have been claims that protein, especially those from animal sources, are bad for your bone health. This is practically based on the logic that increased protein means an increased acid load, which leads to your bones leaking calcium to neutralize the acid.
However, this claim has been debunked by long-term research. Most studies show that protein, in general, has significant benefits to your bones. One analysis was able to prove that individuals who consume more protein can improve bone mass as they get older, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis and even brittleness in old age.
Boosts Your Metabolism and Enhances Your Fat Burning Abilities
It is a known fact that the process of eating itself can boost your metabolism. This is because of the thermic effect of food, which is when your body utilizes the calories and nutrients during digestion. However, not all types of food you eat are able to perform in the same manner. Based on research, protein has the most impact compared to fat and carbohydrates.
In another study with ten average weight women, it was discovered that postprandial thermogenesis increased by 100 percent on the control with a high-protein and low-fat diet compared to the other control with a high-carbohydrate and low-fat diet, therefore proving the claim that metabolism improved significantly on a high-protein diet.
Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Increased blood pressure is a common denominator in all sorts of health problems. If you are unable to maintain normal blood pressure, you are at risk for cardiovascular disorders and even chronic kidney disease. Incidentally, the more protein in your diet has been proven to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
One study was even able to link the impact of a high-protein diet and the reduction of low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides, which play a vital role in identifying cardiovascular diseases.
Maintains Weight Loss
Since we can see a positive impact of a high-protein diet on our metabolism, this directly affects weight loss. In a study done with overweight women, the researchers were able to unintentionally prove that increased consumption of protein daily leads to long-term weight loss. The subjects lost about 11 pounds during the experimentation without deliberately restricting their diets.
Protein also plays a role in eliminating fat. In a year-long study of 130 overweight individuals on a strict calorie-limited diet, the control in the high-protein diet was able to lose 53 percent more body fat compared to the group that only consumed an adequate amount of protein with the same caloric limit.
The more critical part of weight loss is being able to keep the weight off once you have gotten rid of it. Being able to do so seems to be more of a challenge. By increasing the amount of protein you consume in your regular diet, you can keep off the weight on a long-term basis.
Improves Your Body’s Healing
We know that amino acids, being one of the primary components of our cells, are indeed helpful in the healing process. As mentioned, when protein is consumed and digested, they break down into amino acids that then help repair any damaged cells and tissues.
There have been different studies done to prove this claim, stating that there is a vital role in the individual’s nutritional status in the process of healing. The study was able to identify that, among all the macronutrients, protein had a more significant part to play.
Keeps You Fit as You Get Older
As we get older, our muscles gradually lose their strength. In severe cases, there have been individuals who suffer from age-related sarcopenia, where individuals afflicted with the disease are frailer than others in their age group and are more susceptible to bone fractures. This illness has wholly affected their quality of life. There have been lots of research that shows that increasing the amount of protein in your diet is useful in the prevention of the disease and other muscle deterioration.
Best High Protein Foods You Need to Add To Your Diet
Now that we’ve been able to give you the many benefits of going on a high-protein diet, it’s time to provide you with our top picks of protein-rich food.
The reference daily intake for protein in an individual who has a caloric limit of 2,000 a day is approximately 50 grams. However, this is highly dependent on your age, gender, current weight, height, and lifestyle.
With our selection, you can easily make a high-protein meal and stay within your ideal caloric limit.
Protein is abundant in all meats in general. Still, we definitely recommend the lean variety to lessen the amount of fat you consume as well.
One of the healthiest foods and sources of protein would be whole eggs. They have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, good fat, and of course, protein. Egg whites, in particular, are pure protein. Albumin is a type of water-soluble protein that is found in egg whites and our blood as well.
- Egg: Approximately 3.6 grams of protein in a large, whole hard-boiled egg
Fish is one of the healthiest meat choices. It contains the right amount of protein, vitamin D, and omega-3. What’s more interesting is the fact that you have different varieties of fish to choose from. This basically widens the range of dishes you can cook, and you don’t have to limit your meals to the same types every single time.
- Tuna: Approximately 20 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving
- Salmon: Approximately 17 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving
- Cod: Approximately 15 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving
One of the most popular protein-filled foods is chicken. By choosing the right part, you will be on the right track to a healthier lifestyle. Chicken breasts have the highest amount of protein and are quite lean compared to the darker meats. In addition to that, it’s quite easy to buy them in fillets and equally simple to prepare.
- Chicken Breast: Approximately 31 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Chicken Drumstick: Approximately 18 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
Lean beef cuts have a significant amount of protein and are probably the most abundant source. They also contain enough iron and vitamin B12. The next time you prepare steak, make sure to choose the lean cuts and cook them according to your preference. You’re sure to have a satisfying meal with lots of protein.
- Steak: Approximately 25 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Tenderloin: Approximately 24 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Short Ribs: Approximately 22 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Brisket: Approximately 21 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Lean Ground: Approximately 14 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
When we talk about pork, we don’t mean fatty bacon. There are certain pork cuts that fall under the definition of lean, and these are the “loins”: tenderloins, pork loin chops, pork top loin, and sirloins. The pork tenderloin is the leanest and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Just be sure to trim the fat on the edges.
- Pork Chops/Loin: Approximately 29 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Blade: Approximately 24 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Lean Ground: Approximately 23 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
Given you don’t have any allergies to shellfish, shrimp are a great source of protein. They have low-calorie content and contain a high amount of vitamin B12 and selenium. And just like fish, they also contain omega-3 that is great for your heart health.
- Shrimp: Approximately 24 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
Did you know that nuts and legumes are actually packed with all sorts of nutrients, including protein? Almonds hold the most amount of protein, whereas cashews come in a close second. These superfoods not only help you fight free radicals, they also add more protein to your diet with minimal calories.
- Almonds: Approximately 6 grams of protein per ounce serving
- Pistachios: Approximately 6 grams of protein per ounce serving
- Cashews: Approximately 5 grams of protein per ounce serving
- Walnuts: Approximately 4.3 grams of protein per ounce serving
- Pecans: Approximately 2.6 grams of protein per ounce serving
Lentils & Other Legumes
Lentils are legumes. They are high in a variety of nutrients like magnesium potassium, folate, copper, manganese, and folate. They also contain lots of fiber that improves your digestive process. These are the best sources of plant-based proteins and are favored by vegans and vegetarians. These foods must be consumed in moderation since they do have the tendency to increase the level of uric acid in your body. This can eventually lead to health problems.
- Soybeans: Approximately 68 grams of protein per cup
- Kidney Beans: Approximately 43 grams of protein per cup
- Chickpeas: Approximately 39 grams of protein per cup
- Peanuts: Approximately 28 grams of protein per cup
- Lentils: Approximately 18 grams of protein per cup
We would often try to avoid grain, especially when we think about rice and wheat. But quinoa is an excellent addition to your high-protein diet. It is filled with antioxidants and has the right amount of macronutrients that make it quite healthy. It’s also safe for people who have gluten sensitivity. Quinoa can improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and ultimately aid in weight loss.
- Quinoa: Approximately 8.14 grams of protein per cup
If you are looking to increase the amount of protein you are taking in but don’t want the added calories, seeds are a great option. Aside from the fact that they have lots of protein, they also contain iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Flax Seeds: Approximately 31 grams of protein per cup
- Sunflower Seeds: Approximately 29 grams of protein per cup
- Chia Seeds: Approximately 17 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Pumpkin Seeds: Approximately 12 grams of protein per cup
Brussel sprouts are an acquired taste, but when prepared properly, they can be a great addition to your dish. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They have tons of known benefits, as well as anti-inflammatory properties, an ability to improve blood sugar levels, and may even reduce the risks of acquiring certain cancers.
- Brussel Sprouts: Approximately 3.4 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
Aside from protein, broccoli is also a great source of fiber, vitamins C and K, antioxidants, and folic acid. They promote better digestion, lower cholesterol, and wade away free radicals. They are easy to prepare and quite delicious.
- Broccoli: Approximately 2.8 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
If you still enjoy having a glass of milk even as an adult, here’s some good news for you: it’s full of high-quality protein. In addition to that, it also has lots of calcium, riboflavin, and phosphorus.
- Whole Milk: Approximately 8 grams of protein per cup
- Non-Fat Milk: Approximately 8 grams of protein per cup
- 2% Milk: Approximately 8 grams of protein per cup
Given that you are consuming good cheese and not fake commercialized ones, they are an excellent addition to your diet. Eating cheese has always been associated with a negative connotation due to its fat and sodium content. But it is also packed with vitamins, calcium, and protein. It’s all about choosing the right type with lower fat and calories.
- Parmesan: Approximately 38 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Mozzarella: Approximately 28 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Swiss Cheese: Approximately 27 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Cheddar: Approximately 25 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Gouda: Approximately 25 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- American Cheese: Approximately 18 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Feta: Approximately 14 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Cottage Cheese: Approximately 11 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
With limiting the amount of sugar and carbohydrates in your diet, it’s great to know that there are dessert options, such as yogurt, that you can choose from. Though there are yogurts that have way too much fat and sugar in them, you can find some non-fat varieties with no sugar that can be a great addition to your meal. Dress it up with a bit of honey and almonds, and you’ve got a bowl of protein-rich goodness.
- Non-Fat Greek Yogurt: Approximately 10 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Non-Fat Fruit Yogurt: Approximately 4.4 grams of protein per 100 grams serving
- Soy Yogurt: Approximately 3.5 grams of protein per 100 grams serving