Protein Facts You Need to Know
You're already getting enough protein.
"There's way too much hype about protein -- or rather, a perceived lack of it in people's diets," says Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health atNew York University. "The reality is, if you consume enough calories, you're probably eating plenty of protein." Most nutritionists agree that active women need about half a gram per pound a day, or approximately 65 grams for a 130-pound woman. And according to the USDA, most of us -- even vegetarians -- are eating 69 grams of protein daily, so we're in the clear. (If you exercise for more than an hour five or more days a week, bump up your intake to 0.75 grams per pound.) Just don't skimp at breakfast and then load up at lunch and dinner, because eating protein in the a.m. can help curb your calorie intake for the rest of the day.
Protein helps you burn more calories...
Every time you eat, your body uses up energy (aka calories) to break down your food and absorb its nutrients, which boosts your metabolism. When you tuck into fat or carbs, about 5 to 15 percent of those calories go toward the digestion process. With protein, it's more like 20 to 30 percent. That's because protein is made up of amino acids held together by peptide bonds, which are strong little suckers. In order for your body to use the amino acids to repair tissue, transport oxygen throughout your bloodstream, and form immunity-boosting antibodies, the peptide bonds have to be broken; this means your stomach has to work harder, which takes extra energy.
...but it can still make you fat. That metabolism spike doesn't mean protein is a freebie. If you overeat, you'll gain weight no matter where your calories come from. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, volunteers who consumed an extra 1,000 calories a day gained weight, whether 5, 15, or 25 percent of those calories came from protein. While dieters have slimmed down with low-carb plans like Atkins, South Beach, and Paleo, their success is likely because they've cut calories and nixed refined carbs, not because they've upped their intake of protein.