Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.59.12 PMYou’re probably wondering what in the world could possibly be so important about protein that I decided to write an entire post about it. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Getting enough protein in your diet does more for your overall health, satiety, and weight management than any other nutrient. Most diets (can I get an eyeroll?) focus on cutting things out. You’ll hear terms like, “low-fat,” “reduced carb,” and “no sugar” diets, which all focus on restricting something from your daily intake to help you to “lose weight”  while simultaneously making you miserable.

These dieting strategies are not only fads, but they are harmful. Feeling constantly hungry and deprived only for the purpose of losing weight is not a way to live. Which leads me to why protein is probably the most important thing you should incorporate into your diet.

First of all, you never need to cut out protein. Ever. Protein has many, many, benefits which I’ll get to in a minute, but one reason protein is so great that it actually keeps you full. Because there is so much density to protein – think steak versus lettuce – it takes your body significantly longer to digest than any other nutrient. And even though proteins can sometimes have more calories than other foods, you will wind up eating less if you’re focusing on eating more high-protein foods. Did you hear that? You’ll eat less because you’ll eat more.

Protein also is vital to maintaining muscle. Don’t think you’ll turn into a body builder because you’ll eat more protein, the result will actually be quite the opposite. While eating too many carbs will wind up stored as fat, protein will be converted into muscle, and if not muscle it will go into helping replenish bodily tissues, bones, hair, skin, and nails. Your body is made mostly of protein, not fat, so there is usually always use for it. Because protein supports muscular growth, it also ramps up your metabolism!

Your muscles are your bodies furnace – they’re fat burners! If you’re also in shape or working to get there, protein is your guard against muscle soreness. Now this isn’t a guarantee that you’ll never be sore, but because your muscles are made of proteins, it follows that protein would help them rebuild after a workout. Soreness is just the result of tiny little muscle tears that happen after a workout – totally normal, but sometimes the soreness lingers a bit longer than you’d like. Making sure you’re eating a higher amount of protein will help your muscles repair quicker, so you can get right back to your daily grind.

These are just some of the benefits to protein, but it has some other talents as well, like helping your body actually digest other food and get more nutrients. Like I said earlier, your body doesn’t store protein like it does with carbohydrates,  so you really don’t have anything to lose by eating a lot of protein (except, maybe those last few stubborn pounds). Now for the cherry on top: finding out what are the best protein-rich foods you can be eating.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.59.51 PMThe most obvious form of protein is meat and animal bi-products but some are better than others. Try to focus on leaner meats such as:

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish
  • eggs
  • an occasional steak here and there won’t kill you.

Red meats just tend to have more fat in them. After meat, you have dairy in the form of:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • yogurt (preferably Greek, higher in protein and lower in carbs and sugar).

In addition, beans, nuts, and nut butters are also a great source and good for snacks, but should be eaten in moderation as they can be more calorie dense and fattening. Protein powders and bars are also a great source. Just be sure you select ones that are lower in sugar and carbs, like my favorite Quest bars, which come in a ton of different and equally delicious flavors.

So next time you’re thinking about snacking on a granola bar, try swapping it out for a hard-boiled egg, or maybe sub some turkey bacon for that extra piece of toast in the morning. Add a scoop of protein powder to a smoothie, or try a grilled chicken breast with marinara instead of pasta if you’re craving Italian.

There are lots of ways to incorporate protein into your diet, so get creative and eat lots of what you like, then wait while your hunger stabilize, the pounds melt off, and your body feels happier and healthier.