The benefits of eating protein

  • 6 Minutes Read
  • May 14, 2018

What makes protein such an important part of a healthy diet? Read on to learn about the benefits of protein and how dietary protein is important for weight loss. In addition, this article covers how MyNetDiary calculates your protein needs, as well as common sources of plant and animal proteins.

The benefits of eating protein

Want to learn about the benefits of eating protein? Here are some basics

Dietary protein is critical to health because of the amino acids or building blocks that make up proteins. These amino acids are used in the body for growth and development, cell generation, hormone and enzyme building amongst other functions like supporting a healthy immune system! Thus, eating protein every day is important for ensuring a healthy body.

You can meet your daily protein needs by eating both plant and animal foods. Animal sources of protein (meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs and dairy) are complete. That is, they provide all essential amino acids needed to build proteins. Some animal proteins though are also high in calories due to fat content. Make sure to choose types that are lean or trim excess fat and avoid deep-fat frying. This will ensure you reap the benefits of protein rich foods without the excess calories which can make weight loss more difficult.

Tip: Cold water fish and seafood are excellent choices for protein since they also contain heart healthy omega-3 fats.

Plant sources of protein, in addition to providing amino acids also provide dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Yet,they are low in one or more essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. Eating a variety of plant proteins throughout the day will insure that enough of each essential amino acid is consumed. Also, eating small amounts of animal protein along with plant proteins makes it a complete protein.

Some plants are particularly high in protein, such as dried beans and peas (legumes), nuts, seeds, grains and grain products. Contrary to popular belief, no single source of plant protein is complete, not even quinoa. If you are vegan, this is not an issue if you simply eat a variety of plant foods throughout the day.

Soy products (tofu, soy milk, certain veggie burgers, and tempeh) are highly digestible and provide a greater concentration of protein in smaller serving sizes than plain soybeans and other legumes. They can be extremely helpful in meeting protein requirements for vegans with small appetites.

Plant sources of protein are typically high in either carbs (legumes, grains) or fats (nuts and seeds). If you are looking for a healthy protein choice for weight loss and you follow a vegan diet, then plan your choices so that you stay within your calories budget. If you have diabetes and/or you are trying to manage carb intake, then plan your choices so that you stay within your carb budget for meals. You might find you can tolerate more carbs per meal using legumes given their high fiber content. Check your blood glucose before and two hours after your meal to see how you respond. For more tips on managing your diabetes, read Diabetes Basics.

Tip: Legumes support healthy gut bacteria and are weight-friendly and diabetes-friendly.

In order to reap the benefits of eating protein, how much do I need to eat?

Since most MyNetDiary members are trying to lose weight and/or manage their prediabetes or diabetes, MyNetDiary uses a macronutrient distribution to encourage intake of healthy proteins and fats while controlling carb intake. The goals are within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat, carbohydrates, and protein developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. These ranges support intake of essential nutrients while also limiting risk of chronic diseases.

Macronutrient DRI: Acceptable Macro­nutrient Distribution Ranges MyNetDiary Goal
Fat 20—35% of total calories 35% of total calories
Carbohydrate 45—65% of total calories 45% of total calories
Protein 10—35% of total calories 20% of total calories

If you follow an eating pattern that requires a different macronutrient distribution range, then simply customize your macronutrient goals. You can customize your macronutrient goals on any device with a Premium membership. You can also customize your goals if you use the standalone Diabetes Tracker application.

MyNetDiary’s recommended intake for protein is 20% total calories, which is within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range of 10% - 35% of total calories. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein (using a standard reference weight for each) is 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men. If you are an athlete, then your protein requirements are likely higher, especially if you are also following a reduced calories intake. You can read the Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance for more detailed information about protein and other nutrients. The intake goal for athletes is typically between 1.2 g - 2.0 g per kg of body weight. That is about 0.5 g - 0.9 g per lb of body weight.

For certain kidney and liver conditions you may need to limit your protein intake. Make sure to talk to your doctor or dietitian about your diet and follow their specific nutrition advice.

What does protein do for weight loss?

Meeting your protein needs each day is important for weight loss. Since protein foods take longer to digest than carbohydrates you will likely stay full longer if you eat some protein at each meal. When protein is consumed in the appropriate amount, along with a consistent strength training routine, you have a better chance of preserving muscle mass as you lose weight. It is possible however to consume too much protein. Make sure not to go overboard. If you exceed your calories budget from eating too much protein, this can result in weight gain.

Tip: Aim for at least 60g of protein per day while on a reduced calorie diet.

Protein for the Calories

Take a look at the chart below for foods ranked by protein content per calorie. Foods higher up on the list provide the most amount of protein for the least number of calories.

Skinless chicken breast, grilled 3, oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.20
Protein: 26 g
Calories: 128
Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamin B6, niacin, selenium, phosphorus

Seitan (wheat gluten), 3 oz

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.20
Protein: 18 g
Calories: 90
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Iron

Tilapia, cooked, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.20
Protein: 22 g
Calories: 109
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, vitamin B12, niacin, phosphorus, vitamin D

Egg whites only, ⅔ cup (164g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.20
Protein: 18 g
Calories: 89
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, riboflavin

Plain Greek-style yogurt, nonfat, 5.2 oz (150g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.19
Protein: 15 g
Calories: 80
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamin B12, riboflavin, phosphorus, selenium

Clams, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.17
Protein: 22 g
Calories: 126
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamin B12, selenium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A

Salmon, wild Coho, cooked, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.17
Protein: 20 g
Calories: 118
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, vitamins B12, D, and B6, niacin, selenium,phosphorus

Beef, bottom round, trimmed, cooked, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.17
Protein: 24 g
Calories: 144
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, zinc, vitamins B12 and B6, niacin, iron, phosphorus

Pork, tenderloin, lean, cooked, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.16
Protein: 26 g
Calories: 159
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, thiamin, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and B6, riboflavin

Cottage Cheese, 2%, ½ cup (113g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.14
Protein: 13 g
Calories: 90
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Phosphorus, vitamin B12, riboflavin, selenium

The Beyond Burger, 1 meatless patty (113g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.07
Protein: 20 g
Calories: 270
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Iron, Potassium, phosphorus, dietary fiber

Hamburger, ground 80/20, cooked
3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.10
Protein: 22 g
Calories: 213
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamin B12, zinc,selenium, niacin, iron, phosphorus

Milk, nonfat (skim), 1 cup (245g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.10
Protein: 8 g
Calories: 83
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamins B12, A, and D, riboflavin, phosphorus, calcium

Tofu, extra firm, 3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.10
Protein: 8 g
Calories: 77
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, iron, and calcium

Tempeh, cooked
3 oz (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.09
Protein: 15 g
Calories: 167
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Manganese, copper, phosphorus, riboflavin, magnesium

Egg, hard boiled, 1 large

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.08
Protein: 6 g
Calories: 78
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Selenium, vitamin B12, riboflavin

Lentils, cooked, ½ cup (100g)1 oz hulled

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.08
Protein: 9 g
Calories: 115
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Folate, manganese, copper, phosphorus, iron, and fiber

Soy milk, plain, fortified, 1 cup (240 ml)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.08
Protein: 7 g
Calories: 90
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Riboflavin, thiamin, vitamins A, B12, and D, calcium, copper

Dried beans/peas, variety average, cooked, ½ cup (112g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.07
Protein: 7 g
Calories: 105
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Fiber, folate, manganese, copper, iron

Pumpkin seeds toasted, hulled, 1 oz (28g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.06
Protein: 9 g
Calories: 163
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron

Almonds, 1 oz (28g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.04
Protein: 6 g
Calories: 162
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamin E, manganese, copper, riboflavin, magnesium

Sesame Seeds toasted, 1 oz (28g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.03
Protein: 5 g
Calories: 160
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, thiamin

Hummus (chickpea and sesame paste), ⅓ cup (85g)

Protein Grams / Calorie: 0.03
Protein: 4 g
Calories: 145
Also provides Vitamins & Minerals: Manganese, vitamin B6, copper

Sample Day

Getting enough protein should not be a problem for either meat eaters or vegans. Here’s a sample day’s intake of protein containing foods that provides at least 60 grams protein.

Meat Eater Vegan
1 hard boiled egg (6g)
1 container fruit Greek yogurt (13g)
3 oz chicken breast (26g)
3 oz salmon (20g)
1 cup cooked steel cut oats (7g)
1 cup soy milk (7g)
3 oz extra firm tofu (8g)
⅓ cup cooked quinoa (3g)
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (4g)
½ c chickpeas (7g)
2 corn tortillas (3g)
1/3 cup black beans (5g)
3 oz seitan (18g)

Parting Thoughts

If you have questions about the material covered in this article, please be sure to post them in Community Forum.

Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

Last Updated on Feb 5, 2020

Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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