Protein is an important nutrient in the body for a number of reasons, including providing essential amino acids required for building new cells in the body. Protein is a component of every cell and hair and nails are made almost completely from protein.
The body does not store protein as it does other macronutrients such as carbohydrates, so we need to eat it to provide the building blocks for enzymes, hormones, bones, skin, blood and muscle cells.
A good level of protein is especially important when you are dieting or undertaking an intensive training regime to ensure that muscle mass is not lost. If you are not eating a sufficient amount of protein and your stores of carbohydrates are depleted, muscle may be burnt as a source of fuel, leading to loss of muscle mass. This loss of muscles makes you weaker and more prone to injury.
Eating a diet high in protein is thought to promote satiety and help to keep blood sugar levels constant. There is also some suggestion that a high protein diet may be effective in reducing risk of some lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, however it is important to note that best effects were usually seen with strict calorie controlled diets that were also low in unhealthy fats.
By snacking on healthy, high protein foods, you may find you are less hungry and therefore less tempted to reach for unhealthy snacks or over eat at meal times thus resulting in fewer calories consumed and possible weight loss.
If you do not normally eat much protein in your diet, snacks are a good way to ensure you meet your requirements and may help those who are very active to maintain muscle and build strength.
After a tough workout, a snack that is high in protein and low GI carbohydrates may be the best option for recovery and to keep blood sugar levels stable (see also: healthy post workout snacks)
How much protein is required?
The US department of health and human services recommends that women consume about 5 ounces of protein per day, although six may be more appropriate for very active women.
Most people easily meet protein requirements daily, although vegetarians and vegans may have more trouble eating this amount.
Healthy High Protein Snack Ideas
1. Nuts and seeds
These make the perfect snack on the run as they are easily transportable and keep well. A small box of these in the car or on your desk at the office makes a quick and easy, yet satisfying snack.
Nuts and seeds are packed full of nutrients and high in healthy fats as well as proteins, making them a nutritious treat. Unfortunately, nuts and seeds are high in calories due to their high fat content, so it is important to keep serving sizes small, particularly if you are watching your weight.
A small handful should be enough to keep you going without providing too much energy.
For the healthiest snack, choose nuts that are raw and unsalted, as roasted varieties tend to be higher in fat and very salty ones often leave you craving more. For a balanced post workout snack, add a few pieces of dried fruit for carbohydrates and variety.
High in calcium, vitamin D and protein, yogurt can help to maintain healthy bones as well as make a tasty, nutritious snack. Women are particularly at risk of osteoporosis later in life, so a good calcium intake is vital.
Low fat varieties are the lowest in saturated fats, however may be higher in sugar and therefore calories than normal varieties. A low fat natural or Greek yogurt is the best option, but check labels to be sure as these can vary from brand to brand.
Top with a little muesli, nuts, seeds or fruit for a more substantial snack.
3. Low fat milk
Once again high in calcium as well as protein, milk makes a versatile base for many different high protein snacks. Try blending with fresh or frozen fruit for a healthy smoothie, or adding a little cocoa for a warming drink that fills you up.
Soy or almond milk makes a good alternative if you do not drink milk. Always choose low fat varieties for the least saturated fat.
4. Tuna fish
Canned Tuna and any other fish in a can make an ideal high protein snack. Serve on whole grain crackers or in a salad for added vitamins and minerals or buy snack sized tins with added flavours such as sweet chilli or lemon pepper for a more convenient snack on the go and eat with a fork.
For the lowest calorie option, choose fish packed in water. If you are not concerned about calories, those canned in extra virgin olive oil add some extra healthy fat.
Eggs may have gotten bad press in the past, but they are currently endorsed as a healthy food that can be eaten daily and they are certainly packed full of nutrition as well as protein.
A hard-boiled egg makes a more transportable snack, or poach on whole grain toast with spinach for a more substantial snack or meal.
Chickpeas, lentils and beans are all good sources of protein, especially for vegetarians. They are also high in other nutrients, particularly fibre which is important for bowel health. Dips made with beans or chick peas such as hummus with vegetables or whole grain crackers make an ideal snack, or try dried varieties.
Be aware though that some flavoured and fried varieties can have as much fat and salt as potato chips, meaning they are not a healthy choice.
7. Nut butters
A spread of nut butter on crackers or even fruit or vegetables can add protein to a snack that is normally low in this nutrient.
Peanut or almond butter make a nice topping for celery, apple or banana slices or can even be eaten by the spoonful.
Cheese is an excellent source of protein, but hard cheeses are generally high in saturated fat, so soft white cheeses make a better option from this perspective. Unfortunately soft cheeses are generally not as high in calcium, but are a good choice if you have plenty of other calcium sources in your diet.
Spread on crackers or dip fruit and vegetables for a healthy and tasty high protein fix. Hard cheeses are fine in small quantities, but due to the high saturated fat content, they should not be an everyday food.
Choose stronger flavoured cheeses so you can use less but still get great flavour.
Tofu is a great protein alternative for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Low in fat and high in isoflavones, which are thought to have health benefits particularly for women.
Marinated tofu makes for more interesting flavour, but remember that fried varieties may be higher in fat and calories. Plain tofu stir-fried with a few veggies makes a more filling snack.
10. Protein bars
While there is really not need to spend so much money to get your protein fix, (these are normally expensive), there is no doubt they are convenient on the run and may also contain other valuable nutrients.
Sufficient protein can easily be obtained from natural foods; however, the occasional bar is probably a better choice than a high sugar product such as granola bars.