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by Scarlett Crews


What are the Benefits of a Diet Rich in Protein?

If there is anything that we can learn from the low-carb diet fad, it’s turning our attention toward consuming more protein. Trends change with the wind, but one thing has always been true, we need protein! And we’re learning we need it more and more.

For the most part, we Americans, get an insufficient amount of protein every day. How can we be grossly overweight as a population (almost 50% of Americans are overweight or obese) and not consume enough protein? According to the U.S.D.A. up to 1/3 of women between the ages of 20 and 40 don’t get their daily need of protein.

Why is protein so powerful?

Protein is made up of amino acids, 9 essential ones to be exact. These are called complete protein, typically found in animal products. Protein sources are abundant, but not all possess all nine amino acids. Your body uses these amino acids to build and maintain lean muscle tissue. And no, just because you eat more protein doesn’t mean you’ll turn into the Hulk. In fact, when losing weight on a higher protein diet, we breakdown 20% muscle and 80% fat per 1lb. When exercise is added to the mix, muscle breakdown is less than 10%, says Donald Layman, PhD, professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois. Muscle also naturally burns more calories than fat does, so the more muscle mass you retain, the more calories you’ll burn.

Protein lights a fire in your metabolism which ramps up calorie burn. The moment you begin to chew your food, your body shifts into thermogenesis. Protein is much more complex than the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates), causing your body to work at a higher rate of thermogenesis. This is good news, because your body will burn extra calories working so hard to digest, absorb and metabolize protein. In a Nutrition & Metabolism Society study, dieters who increased their protein intake to 30% of their daily calories consumed almost 450 fewer calories per day, and lost almost 11 pounds over the 12-week study period! By eating a food that takes longer to digest, your body maintains a higher level of sustained energy throughout the day, giving you energy to chase after your kiddos, squeeze in a workout or finish your entire to-do list.

Not only does protein help deter weight gain, but it dramatically helps common ailments. According to that same Nutrition & Metabolism Society study, eating more protein benefits patients with osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and sarcopenia, in addition to obesity!

Where can we find this protein powerhouse?

Complete protein sources are found in all animal products: i.e. steaks, chicken, seafood, eggs, milk, etc. You can also find protein in plenty of plant products like beans, nuts, soy, and even small amounts in whole grains! Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is set at a minimum daily protein consumption of 0.4g/lb of body weight, or up to 35% of your daily calorie intake. So, get eating!

The best part about protein? You get to indulge (in moderation) in some of your favorite food, all while maintaining a healthy heart and body!

Scarlett Crews, RD, LDN

All information on, including but not limited to information about health and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment for specific medical conditions.  Please refer to the full disclaimer here.

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About the Author

Scarlett Crews is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, and the Food & Nutrition Project Manager at Omaha Steaks. Scarlett addresses a wide variety of topics in the areas of nutrition trends, facts and foes, and great guidelines to follow for a healthy lifestyle.

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