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Does protein matter? Yes. But most of us are getting enough, if not more than our bodies need. Sustained high protein consumption can be harmful to our long-term health, research suggests.
Instead of adding more protein, replace some of your meat and dairy protein servings with plant-based sources, like beans, nuts and seeds, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, edamame, and nutritional yeast (high-flavor flakes or powder). Spread your protein consumption throughout the day: Your body can’t process a lot at one time.
We asked you to pick your top protein snacks. Then we pondered the pros and cons.
1. CLIF and LUNA Bars
- Favored by: All of us who couldn’t get it together this morning
- Nutri perks: Around 10g protein; high fiber; somewhat organic
- But?: The first ingredient is sugar (brown rice sugar)
- Easy eating: Whip it out to avoid getting hangry (so hungry you’re angry)
- Cost: $1–$2 each
- Trivia: Stanley Mason of Connecticut invented the granola bar, plus squeezy ketchup bottles and foaming toothpaste
- Favored by: Posh Spice, Tom Brady, squirrels
- Why go nuts?: May protect against heart disease, gallstones, and diabetes
- Nutri perks: High in protein, fiber, minerals, and unsaturated fat
- But?: Allergy risk; high fat content
- Keep it healthier: A serving is a small handful (20–25 nuts) or 2 Tbsp nut butter
- Cost: Expensive: macadamia and pecans. Affordable: peanuts
3. Greek yogurt
- Favored by: John Stamos, Kelly Ripa, Venus Williams, and everyone else
- Why milk it?: A multipurpose food that keeps you full
- Nutri perks More protein than regular yogurt, live and active cultures, and probiotics for a happy gut
- But?: Flavored yogurts are high in added sugars
- Keep it healthier: Choose plain nonfat yogurt; jazz it up with fruit, almond slivers, and seeds
- Cost: $2–$3; to save money, buy a larger container
4. Protein powder
- Favored by: Ryan Reynolds when prepping to be a vampire
- Why whey?: Can help boost strength and muscle size
- Nutri perks: Easy to digest
- But?: Often high in sugar and mysterious additives
- Keep it healthier: Look for fewer additives or substitute nutritional yeast
- Cost: Way more expensive than real food
Here’s how to figure out how much protein you need
Multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.336. That’s the number of grams you need. Unless you’re a serious athlete, you probably don’t need more.
- If you weigh 150 lb, you need 50 grams of protein a day (0.336 x 150 = 50.4)
- If you weigh 200 lb, you need 67 grams of protein a day (0.336 x 200 = 67.2)
- Steak (size of a pack of cards) = 42 grams
- Chicken breast = 30 grams
- Most fish fillets = 22 grams
- ½ cup tofu (size of a pack of cards) = 20 grams
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter = 8 grams
- 1 egg = 6 grams
Kate Ruley, MEd, RD, LDN; nutritionist, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
ConsumerReports.org (2010, July). Do protein drinks contain contaminants and heavy metals? Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/protein-drinks/index.htm
Frestedt, J. L., Zenk, J. L., Kuskowski, M. A., Ward, L. S., et al. (2008). A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5, 8.
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Levine, M. E., Suarez, J. A., Brandhorst, S., Balasubramanian, P., et al. (2014). Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. Cell Metabolism, 19(3), 407–417.
Morin, K. (2014, July 21). 31 healthy and portable high-protein snacks. Greatist.com. Retrieved from https://greatist.com/health/high-protein-snacks-portable
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Student Health 101 survey, January 2015.