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High Protein and Diet Quality

Higher protein intake while dieting may lead to healthier eating and more muscle.

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Salmon on vegetables for protein and diet

For many people dieting for weight loss isn’t always easy. But there seems to be a link between more protein and diet quality. An analysis of pooled data from multiple clinical weight loss trials conducted at Rutgers University shows that even slightly increasing the amount of protein—from 18% of a person’s total calorie intake to 20%—has a noticeable impact on the quality of the food choices made by people. These were in diets designed to elicit a daily 500-calorie shortfall.

The higher-protein individuals chose a mix of healthier foods to eat overall. The diet quality boost included a higher intake of green vegetables and a reduced intake of refined grains and added sugar.

Weight loss plans that include calorie restriction can often spur people to reduce the intake of healthy foods as well that include valuable nutrients. In addition, the researchers found a moderately higher intake of protein provided another benefit: a reduced loss of lean body mass often associated with weight loss. Notice that these benefits occurred without needing to eat huge amounts of protein, so no need to go full-on carnivore or spike everything with protein powder!

The study on protein and diet was published in Obesity.

See also: Protein and Muscle

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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