Why Protein Matters: The Health Benefits of Protein

health benefits of protein

Hair and nails. Skin and bones. Every cell in our bodies is built with protein.

Part of a mix of nutrients including carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals—we need protein to stay healthy. During digestion, protein breaks down into essential nutrients called amino acids. Amino acids build, fuel and repair cells. Foods high in protein curb hunger and weight gain, and tune the immune system, among other benefits.  At work, at school, on your bike or the hiking trail, protein powers your busy day.

Are you getting enough of the health benefits of protein for your age, gender and activity level?  Experts increasingly say most of us are getting too little.

The Harvard Medical School’s health blog reported on a Protein Summit of more than 40 dietary experts who met in Washington D.C. in 2013.  Proceedings from that meeting appeared in the April 29, 2015 edition of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Author Nancy Rodriguez, a registered dietitian and professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, writes:

“…the scientific literature has expanded with research indicating that higher protein intakes contribute to better diet quality, healthy weight management, improved body composition, and maintenance of or increased lean body mass for certain populations.” 

Nutrition Experts: The RDA for Protein May Be Way Off the Mark

The Recommended Daily Allowance or RDA is a common nutritional guideline. To understand how you may not be getting enough of the health benefits of protein, calculate your RDA for protein. Do this by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36. Or use this online protein calculator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For a 40-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds and does not exercise, that’s 51 grams of protein a day. That would equate to eating a 4 oz. piece of meat the size of a deck of cards and a cup of Greek yogurt. (Check the Vitals.lifehacker.com handy info graphic for a guide on protein servings.) The more active you are, the more your need for protein goes up. However, nutrition researchers increasingly say that the RDA for protein is only the minimum amount to keep from getting sick.

Up Your Protein Intake and Spread It Out Across Your Day

According to reports from the Protein Summit, you may want to consider consuming up to twice the RDA for protein to achieve optimal health benefits. So, instead of the RDA’s 10 percent of total calories for protein, adults should be consuming 15 to 25 percent of their total calories in protein.

Why? To maintain muscle strength while aging as well as promoting a lean, fat-burning physique, among other potential health benefits of protein. Experts at the Protein Summit also recommend that you should space out your protein intake across the day, to include all three meals as well as snacks.

As with any dietary change you may be considering, please check with your primary care provider or a nutritionist to understand what’s right for you.

Increasing protein intake can be challenging, but quick, high-protein snacks are a great first step!

Discover more delicious, plant-based ways to boost your protein intake on the go with our soft-baked, gluten free Protein Cookies.