Better digestion, a healthier heart, weight loss—all of these things begin with making smarter choices about the foods we eat, and protein is an important part of every healthy eating plan. Not only is protein considered an important building block for the body, but including plenty of lean protein in your diet can help you feel more satisfied throughout the day and less likely to experience those pesky cravings that can steer you off course.
A good rule of thumb, outlined in Brenda Watson’s Love Your Heart Eating Plan, is to eat 12 portions of protein daily from sources such as lean poultry, meat and seafood; low-fat cheese and yogurt; eggs; tofu; tempeh; and nuts. Eating protein at each meal and snack will help keep your appetite under control, so 12 portions a day will look something like this:
- Breakfast: 2 portions
- Snack: 1–2 portions
- Lunch: 3–4 portions
- Snack: 1–2 portions
- Dinner: 3–4 portions
Protein for Breakfast Helps with Carb Cravings Later
Studies have found that a high-protein breakfast not only helps you feel full longer after eating, but also helps avoid carb cravings later on. Ever start your day with cereal or a muffin and wonder why you’re craving more carbs mid-morning? Try beginning your day with protein and low-sugar fruits and veggies instead.
Portion Quick Guide
In most cases, 3 to 4 portions of protein would make up a standard serving. For example, a standard grilled chicken breast fillet added to a salad is 3 to 4 ounces—or 3 to 4 portions. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started:
Poultry, meat, seafood, cheese
Low-fat Greek yogurt
1 egg or 2 egg whites
1 ounce (handful)
Tip: Take Your Protein to Go!
To make things easy, incorporate protein snacks into your day by preparing them ahead of time and storing them in containers for easy-to-grab snacks when you need them.
Nuts are high in protein and make a delicious, satisfying snack—but did you know they can also help lower your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes? Using data collected over a five-year period through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), researchers from Louisiana State University analyzed the diets of more than 13,000 adults, specifically their daily intake of “tree nuts” including pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews. Here’s what they found:
Regular tree nut consumers—those who ate at least a quarter of an ounce of nuts daily—were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, the term given to a group of risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes (including obesity, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels). The lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome may be linked to the fact that nut eaters also had lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, which signals inflammation in the body and is one of the markers doctors use to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease. The same group also had higher levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood, along with lower body mass indexes.
Adding a handful of nuts to the daily diet is a simple thing we can all do to support our daily health. Certain nuts (walnuts in particular) contain beneficial Omega-3 fats that can help balance the body’s inflammation response, along with heart-healthy fiber, vitamin E, potassium and amino acids, which is why Brenda Watson recommends them as part of her Love Your Heart eating plan. Just remember to watch your portion sizes, since nuts do contain some starch—and choose raw nuts that aren’t covered in sugar and salt (which can undermine their health benefits).