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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:

Protein
Poultry, meat, seafood, cheese
Eggs
Tofu
Tempeh
Nuts
Nut butters
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Portion
1 ounce
1 egg or 2 egg whites
3 ounces
1 ounce
1 ounce (handful)
2 tablespoons
3 ounces

 
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.

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salmon-vegetablesNearly 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, but new research suggests we may be able to reduce that number simply by changing the way we eat. In a joint review conducted by Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that diet and nutrition play a critical role in the prevention and control of type 2 diabetes. (Type 2 is the most common form of the disease, in which the body doesn’t use insulin properly and blood sugar levels are higher than normal.)

In particular, patients who followed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in healthy fats from fish, olive oil and avocado (along with leafy green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, plain Greek yogurt and nuts) had a lower risk of developing diabetes, even when they didn’t restrict caloric intake or lose any weight. This was in contrast to participants who followed a strictly low-fat diet, which typically includes more refined carbohydrates known to stimulate insulin secretion.

Indeed, new research confirms that diet quality—especially the type of fats and carbohydrates consumed—is intrinsically connected to healthy blood sugar, metabolism and fat storage. Evidence of this was seen in overweight patients who had been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; when they switched to a Mediterranean diet they had less need for blood sugar-lowering medication compared with those following a low-fat diet.

According to study author and Harvard professor Dr. Osama Hamdy, “We undertook this review because we believe that most of the current dietary guidelines for patients with diabetes do not reflect recent evidence. Nutrition can be used as a medicine to prevent and control diabetes in a very effective way.” Whether you have type 2 diabetes or simply want to maintain optimal health, here are 5 simple tips for improving your diet quality:

  1. Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits.
  2. Eliminate sugar, refined carbohydrates and grains.
  3. Eat healthy fats such as Omega-3 (fish oil), Omega-9 (olive oil), and medium-chain triglyceride saturated fat (coconut oil); reduce your intake of unhealthy Omega-6 fats (mostly vegetable oil).
  4. Eat at least 12 portions of lean protein daily.
  5. Eat fermented foods, which contain beneficial bacteria.

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