Every other day it appears that food manufacturers are using a new buzzword to sell products. "Natural," "gluten-free," "low-fat," the list goes on and on. And lately it seems the new kid on the block is "protein."
I admit when nutrition counseling in my office, I promote that all meals and snacks include protein. Protein does help to keep you fuller longer and therefore my patients are less likely to overeat at their next meal. But does more mean better?
According to many health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the typical American consumes more protein than he or she needs. The U.S.D.A. recommends the average adult get 10 to 35 percent of his or her calories from protein. For example, a 125-pound, 5’5” woman needs only 46 grams of protein a day. (Keep in mind I not talking about the high-endurance athlete or someone else with special needs, I am talking about the average Jane.)
To put that in perspective, a cup of milk has 8 grams of protein, 3 ounces of chicken (and who really sticks with the portion size?) has 21 grams, a 6-ounce container of Greek yogurt has about 18 grams, and one large egg has 6 grams. That alone totals 52 grams—see, it can add up rather quickly.
So do you need to start looking for foods with "protein" front and center on the label? I think it depends first on the type of product: A breakfast cereal that will be eaten with milk, maybe not, but a product that will be eaten on its on, such as a granola-type bar, probably yes.
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For example, if you are grabbing a granola bar before heading to the gym, read the label; 6 grams of protein would be great. But also ask yourself about the other nutrients. Does it have fiber? Healthy fats? Is there too much sugar? Yes to those questions is more important than the bar having 20 grams of protein because more is not better.
However, I do think that overall the message of adding protein to your meals is still important. What I tell my patients is think about your meal in components: a quarter should be a high-fiber carbohydrate, another quarter lean protein, and the rest filled with fruits and veggies. As for your snacks, think of them as a mini meal, half protein and half carbs (grain, fruit, or veggies).
Bottom line: Yes protein is important, but so many other nutrients are as well.