By Kristin Klewan, B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics
Studies show high-quality protein can improve satiety, help manage weight, and prevent chronic disease.
It seems as though snacking may have replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime. National dietary surveys have found that about 90% of adults, 83% of adolescents, and 97% of children snack every day, sometimes several times per day. Whether or not that’s a good thing largely depends on the quality and quantity of the snacks being consumed. Many of the most common snacks, such as chips and soda, are high in both salt and sugar. It’s no coincidence then that increased snacking is associated with decreased protein intake. However, there’s much research to suggest that choosing snacks high in protein, rather than high in salt and sugar, could provide a host of health benefits.
Satiety and Weight Management
High-protein snacks, as well as balanced meals, have been linked to increased satiety. Protein-rich snacking may boost satiety and facilitate weight loss. In a longitudinal study, researchers gave 17 men and women with type 2 diabetes moderately high-protein morning and afternoon snacks (7 g to 12 g of protein) for four weeks, and compared the results with their normal eating habits for four weeks. The subjects who ate the two high-protein snacks lost a modest but significant amount of weight (1 kg) during the four-week period. Researchers noted that the subjects’ weight reduction occurred without changes in total energy intake.
In a study that examined the effect of high-protein snacking on satiety and appetite control, researchers found that healthy women who ate a high-protein yogurt snack (14 g of protein) in the afternoon experienced improved appetite control, satiety, and reduced subsequent food intake compared with eating other common, energy-dense, high-fat snacks.
High-protein snacks also can help maintain normal blood glucose levels. In a study of 20 healthy males, who were given a variety of mid-morning snacks, those given the snacks with the greatest protein-to-carbohydrate ratio, including plain yogurt and skim milk, had the lowest blood sugar levels. Researchers determined that the improvement in blood sugar was due to improved insulin action, rather than to increased concentrations of insulin.
A high-protein diet also may help lower the risk of developing hypertension. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that participants consuming the highest amount of protein (an average of 100 g per day) had a 40% lower risk of high blood pressure compared with those consuming the least. Adults who consumed the most protein, whether from animal or plant sources, had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure levels after four years of follow-up. Because high-protein snacks contribute to overall protein intake, based on the findings of this study, it would appear that high-protein snacks could aid in lowering blood pressure.
For athletes, protein powders and high-protein snacks are easy to find. But how necessary are they, and can they really improve performance? The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming high-quality protein, and singles out milk-derived whey protein isolate and casein, egg white powder, and soy protein isolate as proteins that provide essential amino acids that readily aid in muscle tissue synthesis.
Athletes should include protein at all meals and snacks, especially post workout. Ideally, 20 g of high-quality protein should be consumed within 45 minutes after exercise to promote the recovery process. Athletes demand a higher level of protein intake (1.2 to 1.4 g/kg for endurance athletes and 1.6 to 2 g/kg for strength athletes), and they have to work harder to obtain it, because of the larger quantities of high-protein foods they must consume, she adds. High-protein snacks, such as low-fat dairy foods or protein bars, are a good way to work more protein into the diet.
While dietary protein is important, research suggests that the combination of physical activity (eg, resistance, interval, stretching, and endurance) and 20 g of whey protein may be particularly beneficial for weight loss, fat loss, increasing lean body mass, and improving insulin resistance.
Just as important as consuming high-quality protein, is the time of day when it’s consumed. The typical American dietary pattern is a consumption of about three times more protein at dinner than at breakfast. Most Americans don’t eat an adequate amount of protein in the morning, which may cause decreased performance, hunger, and poor eating habits throughout the day.
Evenly distributing protein intake throughout the day has been found to be optimal.
The idea of 30% of daily protein intake at each meal is being promoted, with some protein snacks between meals.
Maintaining muscle mass is important for overall health, especially in older individuals. Research shows that proper protein distribution also may help prevent age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass with age. To lower the risk, research suggests 25 g to 30 g of protein per meal in older people. Protein synthesis response is blunted in older adults when protein is less than 20 g per meal or snack, research suggests, so getting enough protein becomes even more important with age, she says.
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning that the body needs relatively large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities, are called micronutrients. But unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply. Find sources of protein in Fish, Lean meats, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
I personally recommend to clients and patients to snack on foods that provide a good supply of protein compared with fat and carbohydrate, both for possible appetite and blood sugar control. Mix up your proteins throughout your meals, and make sure the rest of your meal is colorful (the more color in fruits and vegetables, the more nutrient dense).
If you have medical conditions or concerns, please consult your Club Fit Registered Dietitian, or your MD for further information. It is always recommended to consult an RD or MD before making any dramatic changes to your diet.
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