Protein Power

Protein Power

Protein is part of every cell in your body and makes up about 15% of the average person's body weight1. The power of protein comes from the amount and type consumed in the diet. While not consuming enough protein has its consequences throughout the body2, higher protein levels in the diet have been associated with successful weight management, bone health and helping maintain muscle mass during intense physical activity. Certain types of protein have also been associated with specific health benefits.

High Protein Diets

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommends consuming between 10-35% of daily calories from protein. This is quite a wide range with most Americans already consuming about 12 to 18% of daily calories from protein3. Once popular high protein diets, like Atkins, Zone and Protein Power, suggest protein levels at or even higher than 35% of daily calories support weight loss. Some short-term studies show that a high protein diet can help reduce body fat and help maintain lean body mass during weight loss4. While you may see short-term success in losing weight on these diets, long-term studies are needed to show whether protein at these levels in the diet are safe for long-term use and successful for keeping weight off. The American Heart Association (AHA) also warns that high protein diets may not be balanced in terms of essential nutrients the body needs and could lead to an increase in saturated fat intake which is associated with heart disease5 and recommends no more than 35% of daily calories from protein.

Higher protein diets are not for everyone. People with certain diseases and conditions may need to limit their intake of protein, such as people with kidney disease. Always consult with a physician or dietitian for protein intake recommendations associated with specific conditions or diseases.

Protein and Weight Management

You don't need to follow a high protein diet to reap the benefits of protein associated with managing your weight. Increasing protein intake at specific eating occasions can help provide a feeling of fullness6. This may mean consuming fewer calories at the following meal if you aren't as hungry. Also, when it comes to weight loss and protein, experts believe protein increases thermogenesis, meaning the body burns more calories just to digest and process higher-protein foods.

When restricting calories to lose weight, a higher percentage of those calories should come from protein to ensure you have enough to support overall health. So what levels of protein are appropriate when restricting calories? Researchers have seen results with diets containing 20 to 35% of daily calories from protein but there is no one right answer for everyone. See what works best for you.

Protein and Aging

As your age goes up sometimes your appetite goes down, and as appetite decreases consumption of key nutrients, like protein, can decrease. Meeting basic protein needs is important throughout life, especially as you get older. Higher protein intake has been associated with maintenance of lean muscle in older adults7. Losing muscles in legs and hips can lead to falls and injuries like broken hips. Those who do not maintain strong muscles as they age might also having trouble doing basic things like walking up stairs or taking walks in the park. Making sure meals and snacks contain a source of protein is especially important when you eat less.

Protein and Athletes

Some experts believe that protein intake recommendations increase with certain levels of physical activity. This is due to the body's increased demands for protein to maintain, repair and build muscles in response to training8, as well as the body using protein for an energy source when carbohydrates and fats supplies are limited. See below for some general recommendations based on type of physical activity9:

  Grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Sedentary adult 0.8 (RDA for protein)
Recreational exerciser 0.8 – 1.5
Competitive athlete 1.2 – 1.6
Adult building muscle mass 1.4 – 1.6

Boost Protein the Healthy Way

For example, a higher-protein diet may look something like this: 45% carbohydrate, 25% protein, and 30% fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet this would translate into 225 grams of carbohydrate, 125 grams of protein, and 67 grams of fat each day. Here are some tips to help you increase your protein intake in a healthy way:

  • Replace refined carbohydrate snacks with a whole grain snack paired with another protein source like peanut butter, hummus or cheese.
  • Eat lean protein sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, low-fat and nonfat dairy products, fish, and lean poultry.
  • Replace fatty fried foods such as French fries with lean protein sources such as beans and rice.
  • Replace spreads such as mayonnaise and butter with protein-containing spreads like all-natural peanut and almond butters.

Soy and Health

There are now all kinds of soy products available. You may have heard or read about the benefits of working soy into your diet. The news is based on recent studies that suggest soy protein may help support heart health, bone health and other conditions10. In fact, soy protein helps lower cholesterol so predictably that in 1999 the Food and Drug Administration approved the following health claim for food labels:

As part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease11.

Soy protein is also being studied for its role in several health conditions, including weight management and women' health issues12. There are several ways to increase your soy protein intake:

  • Look for soy-containing snack foods and cereals.
  • Try soy milk with your morning whole grain cereal.
  • Make fruit smoothies with tofu and top with a soy-containing cereal.
  • Snack on soy nuts, which come in several varieties including honey roasted.
1 http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2008/March/docs/01features_01.htm
2 http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein-full-story/index.html
3 http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2008/March/docs/01features_01.htm
4 Layman DK & Baum JI (2004) Dietary protein impact on glycemic control during weight loss. J Nutr 134:968S-973S.
5 http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/High-Protein-Diets_UCM_305989_Article.jsp
6 Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lemmens SG, Westerterp KR (2012) Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetic, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr 108:S105-12.
7 Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB (2009) Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 12:86-90.
8 http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.27.aspx
9 Clark, Nancy. Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 2nd Edition (1997). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Phillips SM, Moore DR, Tang JE. A critical examination of dietary protein requirements, benefits, and excesses in athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2007;17:S58-S76.
10 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595159/
11 21 CFR 101.82 Health claims: Soy protein and risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)
12 http://www.soyfoods.org/nutrition-health/soy-for-healthy-living

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