When it comes to what we eat, it’s important to have a varied diet that includes enough sources of all components—vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Each one provides our body with numerous benefits, and we need them all to have balance. Protein, however, carries certain advantages that other dietary elements do not. It’s worth noting, too, that part of their advantage comes from the fact that many foods and snacks that have carbs or fats as their base are more likely to have a much higher sugar content as well as other less healthy additives. Foods and snacks that are protein-based are less likely to have unhealthy things added to them.
Snack foods aside, high-protein diets have grown in popularity over the years because of their ability to help people lose weight. But weight loss is just one side effect of the good that protein does you. Here’s a look at all the rest of the “good” you gain.
Increasing satiation and reducing cravings
Proteins and fats are the elements that make us feel full and satisfied with our meals. Protein does this by increasing the levels of the hormone that makes us feel full and decreasing the levels of the hormone that tells us we’re hungry, which can by default lead us to eat less. When you have enough protein early on and throughout the day, too, you’re less likely to have cravings later in the evening. In fact, a 2005 study on a group of women found that when they increased their protein from 15 percent of their daily caloric intake to 30 percent, they ate 441 fewer calories overall without intentionally restricting any foods.
Improving muscle and bone strength
Whether you’re a gym rat or a tried-and-true yogi, you’ve probably heard praises sung about the importance of protein in maintaining and building lean, strong muscles. (Maybe you’ve sung the praises yourself!) In fact, protein doesn’t just maintain muscles—it’s what muscles are made of. A high-protein diet actually builds lean muscle mass, which increases your strength, and also keeps you from losing muscle if you’re in the process of losing weight. Additionally, after a traumatic injury, most people will lose muscle mass. Keeping up a high intake of protein helps prevent extra loss and allows your muscles to rebuild and come back faster than they would otherwise.
Protein also helps keep bones stronger for longer. Several long-term studies have shown that maintaining a high-protein diet as you age helps keep up bone mass by improving calcium retention and stimulating bone growth and metabolism. It significantly reduces the risk of fractures and osteoporosis as well.
Boosting metabolism and fat burning
Protein doesn’t just boost bone metabolism, it also boosts overall metabolism. All foods boost our metabolism to a certain degree, but protein increases the metabolic rate 15 to 20 percent more than other foods and nearly doubles the normal rate, according to some studies. It also has been found to increase how many calories and how much fat we burn at any given time, which can help with maintaining and losing weight.
Lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol
Keeping our blood pressure and cholesterol in check is important for maintaining good heart and brain health. Studies have shown that consuming high amounts of protein lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and triglycerides in your blood.
Where highly touted high-protein diets often fail is restricting healthy, whole carbohydrates and beneficial fats. Diets that limit those things are most often not sustainable and can cause deprivation of the other nutrients your body needs. They can also create other negative side effects like headaches, irritability, and sleep issues. Furthermore, the quality of the protein makes a big difference. Proteins coming from high-fat animal products can add unhealthy amounts of saturated fats into your diet, which can actually negate the benefits of the protein by increasing your risk of heart disease in the long-term. Yet, if you stick to lean protein sources that are not highly processed and keep enough healthy carbohydrates and fats in your dietary regimen, then upping the ante on your protein intake should only up the ante of your health overall.