Americans love to snack. Research shows that approximately 90 percent of adults and 97 percent of children in our country snack every day, sometimes more than once. Unfortunately, the most common snacks (such as chips, candy, and soda) are high in both sugar and salt. Because of our poor snack choices, increased snacking throughout the day can lead to decreased protein intake overall. Choosing the right snacks, such as those that are high in protein and other nutrients, can have many health benefits.
Benefits of high-protein snacking
High-protein snacks can make you feel full more quickly, and keep you fuller for longer. Research has shown that sustained fullness, or satiety, can also help with weight loss. High-protein snacks can also help to maintain your blood sugar at a normal level, preventing hunger and cravings. Recent research also suggests that diets higher in protein may lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.
When to eat more protein
Most Americans do not eat enough protein for breakfast, which may lead to increased hunger, decreased ability to focus, and poor eating habits throughout the day. We typically eat three times more protein at dinner than we do at breakfast. Research has shown that distributing the amount of protein that you eat throughout the day more evenly across all meals and snacks is more beneficial to overall health and weight maintenance.
Dairy products, including cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, and milk are great sources of both calcium and protein. A six-ounce cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt contains up to 17 grams of protein. A cup of regular yogurt contains eight grams. A low-fat string cheese has only 50 calories and 6 grams of protein. An eight-ounce glass of milk up has eight grams of protein, while a half cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains 12 grams.
Beans and lentils are great sources of both fiber and protein. One cup of lentils has a whopping 18 grams of protein. Beans contain an average of 15 grams per cup. Edamame is a great snack or appetizer, and provides 8 grams of protein per cup.
Nuts are a good source of protein, as well. A quarter-cup of nuts contain about eight grams of protein and are filled with heart-healthy fats. Whole seeds from vegetables, such as pumpkin or squash seeds, provide about three grams of protein for each quarter-cup.
Eggs (specifically the egg whites) are excellent, low-calorie sources of protein. One egg white contains seven grams of protein and has only about 13 calories.
Vegetables are not only excellent sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, but they contain a surprising amount of protein. One cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables contain three grams of protein. Couple some raw vegetables with a high-protein dip made with yogurt or hummus, and you’ve got an excellent high-protein snack.
Protein bars can be a great snack when you’re on the go. These bars range in protein content and can contain anywhere from 7 to 20 grams of protein per bar. Make sure to choose the protein bars that are lower in sugar and calories.
The Bottom Line
Since Americans consume approximately one-third of their overall calories throughout the day from snacking, we need to snack wisely. Increasing the amount of protein in our snacks may contribute to improved nutritional quality of our diets as a whole, and can assist in weight loss and maintenance.
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Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.