High-protein diets remain a big trend in the health and fitness world, and for good reason.

There’s a lot of interesting research about the health benefits of protein in the diet. Studies show that high-protein diets can help with weight maintenance and prevent muscle loss, which is especially important for those of us who are 40 and older, when our bodies start losing muscle.

And protein helps you feel fuller longer so you are less tempted to grab a sugary snack to keep your energy up in between meals, says Nicole Tramp, a registered dietitian and dietetic internship instructor at Iowa State University.

“If you’re trying to lose weight, I’ve seen people be more successful when they do have a higher intake of protein ... If they are losing weight very, very quickly, they are at high risk of losing muscle mass. So we want to make sure they are getting enough protein,” Tramp says.

While you can get protein from peanut butter or energy bars, animal-based proteins, such as meat, dairy and poultry, are especially beneficial for our health, according to nutrition experts.

Eating animal proteins — or not — is a personal choice. However, vegetarians need to be extra careful with their diet to avoid nutritional shortfalls, Tramp says.

“I’m always curious when I ask people (who are vegetarians), are you doing it for health reasons or is it for personal reasons. And I get a variety of answers,” Tramp says. “But definitely a concern with choosing to be a vegetarian is making sure they are getting all the nutrients that they need.”

High-quality, or “complete,” proteins found in animal-based foods, such as beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids and are easily digestible, Tramp says.

Most plant-based proteins are “incomplete” proteins because they lack one or more essential amino acids and are less digestible.

“So you would need to get a variety of those plant proteins in order to equal the amount of the essential amino acids that animal proteins would have,” Tramp says.

Animal proteins are also a good source of nutrients that are more difficult to get from plant proteins alone. Important nutrients found in meat, dairy and eggs include B12, which helps maintain brain function; iron, which helps your body use oxygen; calcium, which is essential for bone health; and zinc, which benefits the immune system.

“(Going vegetarian) is a personal choice, but I want to make sure that people are looking into what is going to keep them healthy in the long run. Eliminating a whole food group doesn’t mean that it automatically makes a healthy diet,” Tramp says.

Last year, the Iowa Beef Industry Council helped launch a 30-Day Protein Challenge. The challenge encourages participants to spread out their protein intake throughout the day, to about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal, instead of eating one protein-heavy meal in the evening.

A glass of milk and an egg are easy additions to your breakfast meal to power up on protein.

“Eggs are an awesome way to get protein, especially in the morning. And they are super cheap too,” Tramp says.

In addition, Tramp notes that the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines removed the limits on dietary cholesterol from eggs, meats and dairy based on new research.

“The nutrition world is changing a little bit to not be so afraid of fat, because they are finding it’s more those processed foods that are creating more (health) issues than those whole, natural sources of fat,” Tramp says.

“So with a healthy diet, we tell people you want to keep things as natural as possible. So that would be your meats, vegetables, dairy — keeping to the perimeters of the grocery store. That’s where you will find more of those fresh foods for your diet.”

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