Eating the right amount of lean protein every day literally keeps your mind off snacking

If you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight—and who isn’t?—you know that food cravings can be your biggest enemy. Often striking mid-morning or afternoon, they make you more susceptible to packaged snacks loaded with sugar and salt.

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But a recent study at the University of Missouri found that eating adequate amounts of protein can make you feel satisfied throughout the day (protein is metabolized more slowly than fats or carbohydrates), and actually reduces signals in your brain that control what experts call “reward-driven” eating (you probably know it by its less formal name, “why on earth did I eat the whole thing?”).

Here’s what protein can do for you and how you can get the right amount at every meal:

Build a strong, efficient body

Protein not only helps with short-term cravings, but is critical to long-term wellness. Made up of tiny strands known as amino acids, it’s a vital component of your muscles, which burn calories and blood sugar. Protein also builds the antibodies in your immune system, which fight disease-causing germs in your bloodstream.

Eat about 20 grams per meal or snack

On average, people under 50 should get about ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight. (People over 50 should get about 10 percent more.) But rather than count grams of protein, it’s usually best for people with diabetes to strive for balanced eating all day: two or three servings of fish, meat or beans; two to four servings of fruit; three to five servings of vegetables; two or three servings of dairy; and up to three servings of whole grains.

Choose lean protein

While it’s relatively easy to get all your daily protein needs from red meat and dairy products, they are high in saturated fats, which promote heart disease and some cancers. Instead, choose lean protein, such as skinless white-meat chicken and turkey, fish like salmon that are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low-fat dairy.

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Avoid “high protein” diets

Yes, it’s important to eat a diet rich in protein. But weight-loss plans that restrict carbohydrates in favor of additional protein are unsafe for people with diabetes—they can put extra stress on the liver and kidneys and up your risk of osteoporosis.

Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., is a diabetes educator and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association

From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus, Fall 2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 26 Jul 2011

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015