The health effects of fat and carbs are controversial. However, almost everyone agrees that protein is essential.
Most people eat enough protein to prevent deficiency, but some individuals would do better with a much higher protein intake.
Numerous studies suggest that a high-protein diet has significant weight loss and metabolic health benefits.
Here are 10 science-based reasons to eat more protein.
1. Protein reduces appetite and hunger levels
The three macronutrients — fats, carbs, and protein — affect your body differently.
Studies show that protein is by far the most filling. It helps you feel more full — with less food.
This is partly because protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It also boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full.
These effects on appetite can be powerful. In one study, increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories made overweight women eat 441 fewer calories each day without intentionally restricting anything.
If you need to lose weight or belly fat, consider replacing some carbs and fats with protein. It can be as simple as making your potato or rice serving smaller while adding a few extra bites of meat or fish.
Summary: A high-protein diet reduces hunger, helping you eat fewer calories. The improved function of weight-regulating hormones causes this.
2. Protein increases muscle mass and strength
Protein is the building block of your muscles.
Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training.
Numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength.
If you’re physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, you must ensure you’re getting enough protein.
Keeping protein intake high can also help prevent muscle loss during weight loss.
Summary: Muscle is made primarily of protein. High protein intake can help you gain muscle mass and strength while reducing muscle loss during weight loss.
3. Protein is suitable for your bones
An ongoing myth perpetuates the idea that protein — mainly animal protein — is terrible for your bones.
This is based on the idea that protein increases acid load in the body, leading to calcium leaching from your bones to neutralize the acid.
However, most long-term studies indicate that protein, including animal protein, has significant benefits for bone health.
People who eat more protein tend to maintain bone mass better as they age and have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
This is especially important for women at high risk of osteoporosis after menopause. Eating plenty of protein and staying active is an excellent way to help prevent that from happening.
Summary: People who eat more protein tend to have better bone health and a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures as they age.
4. Protein reduces cravings and desire for late-night snacking
A food craving is different from normal hunger.
It is not just about your body needing energy or nutrients but your brain needing a reward.
Yet, cravings can be incredibly hard to control. The best way to overcome them may be to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
One of the best prevention methods is to increase your protein intake.
One study in overweight men showed that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and the desire to snack at night by half.
Likewise, a study in overweight adolescent girls found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings and late-night snacking.
This may be mediated by an improvement in dopamine function, one of the primary brain hormones involved in cravings and addiction.
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Summary: Eating more protein may reduce cravings and the desire for late-night snacking. Merely having a high-protein breakfast may have a powerful effect.
5. Protein boosts metabolism and increases fat burning
Eating can boost your metabolism for a short while.
That’s because your body uses calories to digest and use the nutrients in foods. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF).
However, not all foods are the same in this regard. Protein has a much higher thermic effect than fat or carbs — 20–35% compared to 5–15%.
High protein intake has been shown to significantly boost metabolism and increase the calories you burn. This can amount to 80–100 more calories burned each day.
Some research suggests you can burn even more. In one study, a high-protein group burned 260 more calories per day than a low-protein group. That’s equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day.
Summary: High protein intake may boost your metabolism significantly, helping you burn more calories throughout the day.
6. Protein lowers your blood pressure
High blood pressure is a significant cause of heart attacks, strokes, and chronic kidney disease.
Interestingly, higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure.
In a review of 40 controlled trials, increased protein lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by 1.76 mm Hg on average and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) by 1.15 mm Hg.
One study found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
Summary: Several studies note that higher protein intake can lower blood pressure. Some studies also demonstrate improvements in other risk factors for heart disease.
7. Protein helps maintain weight loss
Because a high-protein diet boosts metabolism and reduces calorie intake and cravings automatically, many people who increase their protein intake tend to lose weight almost instantly.
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One study found that overweight women who ate 30% of their calories from protein lost 11 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks — though they didn’t intentionally restrict their diet.
Protein also has benefits for fat loss during intentional calorie restriction.
In a 12-month study in 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories.
Of course, losing weight is just the beginning. Maintaining weight loss is a much greater challenge for most people.
A modest increase in protein intake has been shown to help with weight maintenance. In one study, increasing protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced weight regain by 50%.
If you want to keep off excess weight, consider increasing your protein intake permanently.
Summary: Upping your protein intake can help you lose weight and keep it off in the long term.
8. Protein does not harm healthy kidneys
Many people wrongly believe that a high protein intake harms your kidneys.
Restricting protein intake can indeed benefit people with pre-existing kidney disease. This should not be taken lightly, as kidney problems can be very serious.
However, while high protein intake may harm individuals with kidney problems, it has no relevance to people with healthy kidneys.
Numerous studies underscore that high-protein diets have no harmful effects on people without kidney disease.
Summary: While protein can cause harm to people with kidney problems, it doesn’t affect those with healthy kidneys.
9. Protein helps your body repair itself after injury
Protein can help your body repair after it has been injured.
This makes perfect sense, as it forms the main building blocks of your tissues and organs.
Numerous studies demonstrate that eating more protein after an injury can help speed up recovery.
Summary: Eating more protein can help you recover faster if you’ve been injured.
10. Protein helps you stay fit as you age
One of the consequences of aging is that your muscles gradually weaken.
The most severe cases are age-related sarcopenia, one of the leading causes of frailty, bone fractures, and reduced quality of life among older adults.
Eating more protein is one of the best ways to reduce age-related muscle deterioration and prevent sarcopenia.
Staying physically active is also crucial, and lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance exercise can work wonders.
Summary: Eating plenty of protein can help reduce the muscle loss associated with aging.
Even though a higher protein intake can benefit many people, it is unnecessary for everyone.
Most people already eat around 15% of their calories from protein, which is more than enough to prevent deficiency.
However, in some instances, people can benefit from eating more than 25–30% calories.
If you need to lose weight, improve your metabolic health, or gain muscle mass and strength, make sure you’re eating enough protein.