The Power of Protein

Protein is vital to your health and crucial to all your body's physiological functions. Consider it the fuel you need to keep all parts of your engine running optimally and on time. Protein can be found in a wide array of foods. Learn how to choose wisely.

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Nuts and Seeds

Pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans and pistachios are more than snack foods: They are all rich in protein. Complement your meals with nuts; add them to salads, oatmeal and cereals, yogurt and main dishes. Nut are high in calories, but they are also nutrient dense. Nuts contain essential fatty acids. In addition, nuts mostly contain unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fat. This type of fat does not affect blood cholesterol levels. A 1/3 cup serving of nuts is equal to 1 ounce of meat. Pistachios are the heavyweights here – offering 9 grams of protein and 4.4 grams of fiber per serving. And don't forget about flaxseed. It truly is a superfood, loaded with fiber, omega-3s and high-quality protein. The body best absorbs nutrients from ground flax.

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Whole Grains, Fruits and Vegetables

Certain quality grains like quinoa and millet are high in protein. Quinoa is a whole grain and a complete protein – a rare combination. A serving of quinoa can provide 24 grams of protein. Cutting back on white flours and highly processed carbohydrates and increasing your protein intake improves levels of blood triglycerides and HDL (the good cholesterol). These factors may help reduce chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Fruits and vegetables offer very modest levels of protein. Dried apricots and prunes, cherries, avocados and leafy greens like spinach are good options.

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Protein and Weight Loss

High-protein diets are not about excluding all other food groups, but eating more protein has shown positive results when it comes to weight loss and diet maintenance.

Here's why: fish, chicken, beef, beans and other protein-rich foods don't travel as quickly from the stomach to the intestine. This basically means your stomach empties at a much slower rate – so you feel fuller longer, and as a result, eat less. Proteins don't cause a spike in blood sugar levels – and the subsequent crash. The body also has to use more energy to digest protein – you actually burn more calories in the process.