When you realize that your last meal was a bit too light — and your next meal is still a ways off — which snacks are smart choices?
A good snack will contain at least some protein to help keep you full, explains Mary Wirtz, RDN, a Colorado–based nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best. “Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so it therefore keeps us satisfied and satiated,” she says. And the longer you keep hunger at bay, the less likely you’ll be to reach for another snack, so it’s a good way to keep calories in check, she adds.
Protein’s ability to help keep you full longer than other macronutrients may explain why high-protein diets like paleo have become so popular. Replacing half of your fat calories with protein can be helpful for weight loss, particularly decreasing fat while preserving lean muscle, according to a study. As a result, high-protein, low-fat diets may also help prevent chronic conditions related to obesity, such as metabolic syndrome, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Of course, there is also evidence that high-protein diets may contribute to cardiovascular disease and shorter life spans, according to research. People who eat very high protein diets also have an increased risk of kidney stones, according to one study.
The source of the protein you’re eating plays a factor in many of these adverse health effects. Some foods that pack a lot of punch when it comes to grams of protein per calorie, like red meat or full-fat cheese, can also serve up a lot of saturated fat, which should be eaten in moderation. For these reasons, proteins from whole plants, which tend to be lower in saturated fat, are often recommended.
In fact, a meta-analysis concluded that bumping up the percentage of total daily calories that come from plant protein by just 3 percent was associated with a 5 percent lower risk of premature death. Another study found that replacing 3 percent of the calories in your diet from animal proteins with plant proteins corresponded with a 10 percent decrease in death from any cause over that period, for both men and women.
There is still some debate about how much protein it’s healthy to eat. Some recommendations are based on body weight (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight), others say that 10 percent of the calories you eat in a day should come from protein, while still others give amounts in grams for men and women, reports Harvard Health Publishing. Sex, age, height, and activity level all affect your protein needs as well. In fact, data shows that one-third of Americans age 50 and older don’t get enough protein, according to research.
The findings also indicate that it’s best to spread your protein intake out over the day, which is why high-protein snacks are a good idea. Here are eight options with 6 grams (g) or more per serving.