Protein essential, beneficial - but don't overdo it


Stephanie Ward's protein-packed diet includes smoothies, beans and a fortified chocolate bar.

"I'm more inclined to buy the ones that have the little label on it that says '27 grams of protein,'" said Ward.

Experts say Americans like Ward have an insatiable appetite for protein, thanks to research showing it can help shed pounds and keep you fuller, longer. To satisfy the craving, manufacturers are adding protein to foods that may not have had it naturally.

"We're seeing protein being added to just about everything. granola bars, breakfast cereals, breads," said Phil Lempert, "The Supermarket Guru."

Even drinks like almond milk and water, making the U.S. the biggest market for high-protein products in 2012. Lempert says with the price of meat and poultry on the rise, consumers are eating up these new protein-fortified options.

"What we're discovering through good science is that there's a lot of vegetable proteins out there that are very tasty," said Lempert.

Some of the hottest ones include hemp, lentil, and pea protein.

"A lot of these proteins are dairy-free. They're soy-free. They're gluten-free, and they're a great additive, especially for people that don't eat meats," said Jim White, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Or for those who have certain food allergies.

But White says that while protein is essential, it should only make up 10-35 percent of your daily calories.

"The average American consumes about double the recommended amount of protein," said White.

"Consuming double the amount of protein we need can cause stress on the kidneys. It can increase the urinary loss of calcium. It also can cause dehydration," said White.

Obviously you want to watch your protein portions, but when you have the opportunity to check a nutrition fact, you want to stay between 15 and 20 grams per meal.

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