Sunday, June 27, 2010

Top 3 Reasons You Should Eat Protein-Part I

As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I spent the better part of the month of June writing a gigantor report on protein for a major food and beverage company.  Despite what some so-called "experts" will tell you, there are big food and beverage companies that want to do the right thing and make products that provide consumers with a benefit.  In such cases, they will retain a Dr. Dork like myself to review all of the science on a particular topic and come up with some conclusions.  In this case, I reviewed almost 100 clinical trials on protein.

I must admit up front, that I was already a fan of protein prior to starting this report.  I've been reading the science for the last 20 years and have seen how and when eating protein can be beneficial.  However in reviewing the most recent evidence, I now like protein even more than I did before.

That's not to say that carbohydrate and fat don't play very important roles in the diet.  They are extremely important.  All I'm saying is that protein also has a vital role in our diet for reasons beyond just replenishing muscle turnover in the body.    

Reason #1 Why You Should Eat More Protein:  Makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time.

This can be important for two very different reasons.  First of all, most people don't like to feel hungry.  It's not a warm fuzzy feeling to have a grumbling stomach.  Plus, when you're hungry it's hard to focus on anything...other than food.  Studies have shown that cognitive function declines when we're hungry...although if you're a human who has previously been hungry, you probably don't need a Dr. Dork to tell you that.

Second, feeling fuller for a longer period of time should (and I emphasize should) make it easier to consume fewer calories.  If you have a high-protein breakfast, you may not need a mid-morning snack (calories saved).  Or, you may consume less at your next meal (more calories saved).  This all assumes that you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are least most of the time.  It's not clear how protein increases fullness but likely has to do with the amino acids signaling the 'satiety centers' in our bodies.  

One of my favorite Dr. Dorks studying protein is Dr. Donald K. Layman at University of Illinois.  He has done several studies in SHEs looking at the effects of protein on hunger, body weight, and body composition.  He will tell you that the women who eat a high-protein breakfast find they are significantly less hungry the rest of the day versus when they eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast.  But the challenge is getting a big dose of protein at breakfast.  Most convenient breakfast foods are high in carbohydrates (cereal, fruit smoothie, muffins, toast, energy bar) or fat (donut, croissants).  

Plus, some foods that say they are high in protein only contain 5 g per serving.  The research suggests that you need at least 20 g of protein to have the benefit of feeling fuller for a longer period of time.  Herein lies the challenge!  Here are a few foods that contain protein...when combined, you can get to that 20 g level:

  • 1 Egg - 6 g (77 calories)
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese - 7 g (113 calories)
  • 1 c milk - 8 g (90 calories for skim....can always dump in some protein powder to boost it up...make it a smoothie)
  • 1 c soy milk - 6 to 10 g depending on brand (~100 calories)
  • 2 T peanut butter - 8 g (190 calories)
  • 2 slices bacon - 6 g (90 calories)
  • 1 c Greek yogurt - 15 to 20 g (~100 calories)
  • 1/2 c cottage cheese - 15 g (81 calories for 1%)
  • 1/4 c almonds - 8 g (200 calories)
  • Think Thin protein bar - 20 g (240 calories)

If you can include some vegetables and sources of fiber in your breakfast, even better!  Both also increase feelings of fullness (not to mention doing a whole bunch of other good things in your body).  Any other ideas for protein at breakfast???  

Will post the next 2 reasons to eat protein later this week.  Stay tuned!



  1. Dr. T, thank you! I never really knew that the "magic number" was 20g of protein for breakfast. This makes it so much easier to plan ahead for breakfast meals. Now I'm curious... what is the recommended amount of protein needed throughout the day and how does it vary for men and women?

    In any case, I'm quite glad that we have Dr. Dorks around to help synthesize information like this for the rest of us laypeople! Thank you!

  2. amkovacs....see the next post. I hope that answers your question. :)