Protein has risen to stardom in recent years thanks to a growing body of research suggesting a variety of positive outcomes associated with the nutrient. As new research about the importance of protein in the diet has emerged, Americans’ shopping habits have changed. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2013 Food & Health Survey, 63% of Americans consider protein when buying packaged food or beverages, a 7% increase over 2012.
High-quality protein intake has been linked to muscle development and maintenance, weight management, and beneficial effects for those with chronic diseases such as sarcopenia, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes. These developments have raised protein to “super nutrient” status in the dietary world.
“Protein is an essential nutrient your body needs each day to help build and maintain muscle mass,” states Amy Viselli, registered dietitian at the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. “High-quality protein sources, like whey protein found in dairy, make it easy for you to get all of the essential amino acids your body needs to help it work properly.”
Meat, poultry, fish and dairy are all natural sources of high-quality protein, according to Viselli. High-quality proteins not only contain all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that cannot be made by the body, they are also easily digested.
Viselli recommends that protein intake be spread throughout the day. “Many Americans tend to eat very little protein in the morning and afternoon, and have a large portion in the evening,” she says. “Instead, aim to include protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner to maximize your body’s use of the nutrient. In fact, some experts recommend consuming anywhere between 20-35 grams of protein at each meal.” The amount of protein per serving can be found on nutrition labels.