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Protein, Protein, Never Eat a Meal or Leave Home Without It!

Protein, Protein, Never Eat a Meal or Leave Home Without It!

The subject of protein seems to be everywhere you look these days.  The food pyramid that many of us learned about years ago has become a food plate.  Both the pyramid and the new and improved food plate include protein as one of the major food groups.  You may also remember from biology class that proteins are important for cellular function.  In fact, the National Institutes for Health reports that protein is needed for 5 main functions.  These functions include forming the structure for cells, making antibodies and enzymes, being the messengers that transport hormones, and transporting atoms and small molecules throughout the body.  But, what I really want to tell you about today is when you need to eat proteins, the impact that they have on your hunger level and how they contribute to weight control.


Proteins Not Stored for Future Use

Although many components of the body have protein in them, proteins are not stored in a way that they can be used easily when needed.  In comparison, the body does store carbohydrates and fats in this way.  So, carbohydrates and fats can be easily broken down and released when more is needed.

A good way to understand this is to think of trying to keep a room warm by using a wood burning stove or fireplace inside the house.  If we throw in some extra newspaper or kindling, we’ll successfully increase the burn and the amount of heat produced.  But if you throw in a cement block, it’s not doing to help you.

The moral of the story here is that you have to eat proteins daily in order to keep your supply up.  Since there aren’t any in the supply closet for future use, if you don’t eat enough, the body will resort to other ways to get proteins, such as breaking down muscles that you need for regular functioning.

When to Eat Proteins

As my headline indicates, I recommend eating protein with every meal and every snack.   Additionally, I encourage you to keep some on hand when you leave the house too! I say this based on my own personal experience and research evidence.

Protein satisfies our hunger whereas many other foods don’t do the trick.  If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  The next time you’re hungry, eat something that is high in sugar and carbohydrates but very low in protein.  Things like donuts, pastries, and cupcakes fit the bill nicely.  After you eat one, see how you feel.  Ask yourself if you’re satisfied.  Those who are satisfied won’t need or want to eat more.  I’ll bet you’ll want to eat another one or two or more because sugars don’t satisfy, instead they increase your craving for more.  If you haven’t already read it, see my post called Sugar Addiction: When Your Sweet Tooth Takes Control of You for more about the dangers of sugar.

The reason I want you to bring something with protein with you when you leave the house is so that you’re prepared and don’t fall into the snack trap!  If you have nothing with you and find yourself in a convenience or grocery store, you’ll be tempted to buy and eat something unhealthy.  Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

Don't fall into the snack trap! Click To Tweet

Impact on Hunger and Weight

Several research studies have supported the theory that increased protein diets increase satisfaction and encourage people to eat less (See references below).  Stopping eating when satisfied is likely to reduce the amount of food consumed and can have a very positive influence on weight loss attempts.

In order to understand why this happens, you need to know a little about the “hunger hormones.”  Magee presented an excellent articles which explains this well.  In a nutshell, we have 2 hunger hormones that affect our appetite and ultimately our weight.  “Leptin is a hormone, made by fat cells, that decreases your appetite.  Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite, and also plays a role in body weight.”

An excellent way to remember the difference between leptin and ghrelin is that ghrelin can cause a hunger growl and leptin lowers the appetite. As it turns out protein helps suppress ghrelin, so it helps suppress the ghrelin growl and you’re less likely to keep eating.  Protein has also been shown to make your body more sensitive to leptin, meaning you’re fell full sooner.

10 Tips for Protein Snacking

In order to help you stop mindless snacking and start choosing your snacks wisely, I’m going to give you a list of 10 high protein snacks to get you started.  Many other resources online can help you.  My personal observation is that we tend to do better during actual meals and are more likely to fall into the snack trap of low protein junk foods.  So try these and let me know how you do!

  1. Greek Yogurt
  2. Hard Boiled Eggs
  3. Low-fat Cottage Cheese
  4. Low-Fat Cheese Sticks
  5. 1 ounce of nuts
  6. Beef Jerky (avoid added sugar or salt)
  7. Pumpkin Seeds
  8. Humus with vegetables
  9. Mini PB& J (use natural nut butters & all-fruit jelly)
  10. Tuna & Whole Grain Crackers

Reflection Questions

  1. How often do you think about how much protein is in the foods you eat?  Do you need to start thinking about it more often?
  2. What are your favorite protein snacks?
  3. Do you know how much protein you should eat in a day?  If not, check out the following Link for some guidance.


United States Department of Agriculture. Choose My Plate.

National Institutes of Health. US National Library of Medicine. What are proteins and what do they do?

A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite (2005)

High-protein diet, obesity, and the environment (2006)

The satiating power of protein—a key to obesity prevention? (2005)

Magee, E. Web MD. Your hunger hormones:  How they affect your appetite and your weight.

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