The Importance of Protein in a Healthy Diet

High-protein, low-fat diets have been the cornerstone of the weight-loss industry for years, and with good reason: getting your protein from healthy sources (with minimal saturated fats and carbs) gets results. Unlike a gimmicky, lose-weight-fast commercial diet, there’s some very real science behind the effectiveness of increasing your protein intake from a number of sources that include both plant and animal-based foods.

importance of protein

What does protein do for me?  

The question, really, is “What can’t it do?” Protein is the structural component of cells and tissues, and it helps your body to recover from strenuous workouts to build more muscle or even recoup after surgery. In addition to tissue and cell repair, amino acids (the “building blocks,” or components of proteins) support your immune system, balance hormones and contribute to healthy hair, skin and nails. Protein provides energy in the form of calories that, unlike fats and carbs, are not stored in the body but burned for fuel. This gives you the extra energy you need to power your workouts (exercise is always an essential part of a weight-loss plan), and also demands that you consume a variety of proteins throughout the day to keep your stores filled.

How much do I need?

Depending on your activity level and caloric intake goals, your daily protein needs will vary. If you’re eating about 1,800 calories a day with a low-to-moderate activity level, 45 to 150 grams  that you’ll get from two to three servings a day should do the trick. If you’re a serious athlete taking in upwards of 2,000 calories a day, you may need as much as 200 grams or more.

What are the best sources of protein?

As mentioned above, it’s important not to exclude other healthy sources of vitamins and minerals from your diet. It’s also important to pick protein sources that are low in saturated fats, like fish or turkey. Plant-based proteins found in nuts and beans are a great addition that make for easy snacks, while dairy products like low-fat cheese or Greek yogurt have the added benefit of providing calcium to keep those hard-working bones healthy.

Here’s a round-up of high-protein grab-and-go snacks:

  • Turkey jerky
  • Roasted nuts
  • Hard-boiled eggs, made ahead of time and stored in the fridge
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Protein supplements

Visit Dr. Dirk’s Nutrition eStore to get an idea of what you may need, according to a weight-loss specialist. Swapping out a less-healthy snack for a quick protein shake may give you just the energy you need to go that extra mile at the gym.