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Fill Up with Protein!


Submitted by Amy Sercel

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Whether you want to lose weight, have a busy schedule, or simply don’t enjoy snacking, nobody wants to feel unexpectedly hungry during the day.  A quick Google search will turn up many tips for staying full, such as eating fiber, choosing foods with a high water content, and using herbs and spices to flavor your meal.  Following these suggestions would lead to a healthy eating pattern and can contribute to feelings of fullness and satisfaction.  However, a study recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirmed that eating protein is the most important factor for staying full.  This may be because protein prevents your stomach from releasing hormones that signal hunger.

Different protein sources will have a varying impact on satiety.  In one study, people who received eggs for breakfast felt more full and ate less at lunch than people who ate cereal for breakfast, even though the two meals contained the same amount of protein and calories.  Eggs have a wider variety of amino acids, or the compounds that make up proteins, than cereal does, which may have contributed to the improved satisfaction from the meal.

Researchers have also found that people stay full for the longest after consuming an “extremely high” protein meal in which 60% of calories came from protein, compared to the typical 15-20% of calories from protein in the average person’s meal.  People who ate a high-protein diet for several days in a row also noticed a long-term increase in satiety, suggesting that people will not develop a “tolerance” to the improved fullness associated with a high-protein meal pattern. All of this indicates that people who are trying to lose weight should consider increasing their protein intake, so they feel more full after each meal and are less tempted to snack or overeat throughout the day.

Unfortunately, it may not be practical to eat extremely high protein meals all the time without increasing calorie intake or missing out on other nutritious foods.  Additionally, diets high in red meat have been linked with colon cancer and heart disease, and excess protein intakes have been associated with kidney stones, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.  Most people need about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that they weigh each day.  If you do want to bump up your protein intake, you can try adding some seeds or nuts to your breakfast cereal or salad at lunch.  You could snack on a smoothie made with silken tofu or Greek yogurt.  Whole grains like farro and quinoa are also great sources of protein.  Including protein in your diet this way will ensure that you meet your nutritional needs and stay full all day!

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