New Studies Promote Health Benefits of Protein
Saturday, May 5, 2012
LifeTime WeightLoss in Nutrition, Protein, Tom Nikkola, blood pressure

Written by Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

If you’ve been following the articles posted on this site for any length of time, you probably know how valuable we feel protein is in the diet. Our Healthy Way of Life Food Pyramid builds a foundation around nutrient-dense, non-starchy vegetables and fruit, and then emphasizes protein at the next level of importance.

Ideally, a serving or two of protein should be eaten with each meal to increase satiety, optimize blood sugar levels and provide a good source of muscle-building amino acids. A couple of new studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show protein provides some additional benefits as well.

Study 1

In the first study,[i] two diets were compared. Both diets included about 1200 calories, which were considered low-calorie diets. Individuals followed a “low-calorie, conventional diet” which averaged 44% carbohydrates, 21% protein and 33% fat. (I know, they don’t add up to 100% — that’s how the averages by macronutrient totaled in the study’s data table.) The “low-calorie, higher-protein, low-glycemic-index diet” consisted of an average of 40% carbohydrates, 33% protein and 27% fat. This study did not reduce carbohydrate levels, but instead swapped fat calories for protein. It also replaced some of the carbohydrate calories with low-glycemic carbohydrates.

Though both diets were low-calorie diets, the higher-protein diet resulted in lower fat cell size and less abdominal fat. The higher-protein diet also resulted in better improvements in blood glucose levels. This is important because conventional thought has always been that blood glucose levels should improve with any low-calorie diet, yet the improvements were only seen with the higher protein intakes. Another benefit of the higher-protein diet was that individuals had reduced levels of C-Reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation and heart disease risk.

Study 2

A second study compared the use of a protein supplement with the use of a maltodextrin-based drink that supplemented study participants’ diets.[ii] Those on the lower-protein diet, including the maltodextrin drink, consumed 15% of their calories from protein, 30% from fat and 55% from carbohydrates. The higher-protein group, including their protein supplement, consumed a diet of 25% protein, 30% fat and 45% carbohydrates. The diets were not reduced-calorie diets. Instead, the two possible supplements (maltodextrin or protein) were added to participants’ diets. At the end of four weeks, the higher-protein group saw an average of 4.6 mm Hg lower blood pressure than the maltodextrin group.

Does the study show that increasing protein caused the decreased blood pressure? Not necessarily. The lower blood pressure could also be a result of reducing carbohydrate intake, which often causes lower blood pressure levels. However, most people don’t simply reduce their carbohydrate, fat or protein intake. They usually replace it. Replacing some carbohydrates with protein resulted in better health risk factors according to this study.

Making It a Habit

Eating protein with each meal or snack may not seem as convenient as eating a muffin, granola bar, snack pack or other processed food. It isn’t. But if you want to be healthier than the average person, it requires a few extra minutes each day. In my experience, those who made it a habit to eat a good source of protein with each meal or snack had a much easier time managing their weight than those who didn’t. I didn’t even care how many calories clients ate (and still don’t) as long as they made the right kind of food choices. So what are some good options?

Eggs: Provided you don’t have an allergy to eggs, they are a great way to start the day and can be made in a countless number of different omelet and scramble ways. Egg bakes are an easy way to make breakfast on a Sunday and have it ready to reheat for the next several days. Need a portable snack? Just hard-boil some eggs, and add salt and pepper when you’re ready to eat them.

Protein shakes: Whey or rice/pea proteins are some of the best-tasting and most nutritious protein powder options you can find. Mix them with water or throw them in a blender with various fruits, greens, almond milk or coconut milk. You can even make protein brownies with the right kind of vegetarian protein powder, like VeganMax. (Click here for the recipe.)

Meat, poultry, fish and other animal protein sources: This is pretty obvious, but you don’t need to save these for lunch alone. Instead of eating a large lunch, consider splitting up your leftovers into two smaller meals and eat them mid-morning and mid-afternoon rather than eating everything at lunch.

Dairy: If you can tolerate dairy, cottage cheese and full-fat cheeses provide good sources of protein. If you have trouble with cow’s dairy, try goat’s milk or sheep’s milk cheeses. Greek yogurt has also gotten a reputation for being high in protein, but check the label. As more Greek yogurt brands have come on the market, many of them are actually quite low in protein and have a lot of sugar, especially the options with mixed fruit included.

Most of the recipes we feature on this site are high in protein and lower in carbohydrates, so if you’re ready to try something new, just click on the “recipes” link to enjoy one of the delicious recipes.

Share thoughts and comments below.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.



[i] Rizkalla SW, Prifti E, Cotillard A, et al. Differential effects of macronutrient content in 2 energy-restricted diets on cardiovascular risk factors and adipose tissue cell size in moderately obese individuals: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012:95:49-63

[ii] Teunissen-Beekman K, Dopheide J, Geleijnse JM, et al. Protein supplementation lowers blood pressure in overweight adults: effect of dietary protein on blood pressure (PROPRES), a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:966-71

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