Eating more protein while dieting may lead to healthier food choices overall, study finds

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Consumers may be more likely to incorporate more vegetables when their protein intake is high

A new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University explored how consumers’ eating habits while dieting may affect their food choices long-term. According to their findings, eating more protein while on a diet may prompt consumers to choose healthier options overall. 

“The impact of self-selected dietary protein on diet quality has not been examined before, to our knowledge, like this,” said researcher Anna Ogilvie. “Exploring the connection between protein intake and diet quality is important because diet quality is often suboptimal in the U.S., and higher-protein weight loss diets are popular.” 

Improving diet long-term 

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 200 overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 24 and 75 involved in a six-month clinical trial. The participants followed a calorie-deficit diet for the duration of the study, and they recorded everything they ate. The team then assessed the quality of their diets to understand how healthy the participants were eating.

While the researchers recommended that the participants allot 18% of their daily calories to protein, the participants fell into two groups: 18% of calories coming from protein or 20% of calories coming from protein. Though the team found that both groups lost the same amount of weight, eating more protein improved the participants’ diets overall. 

Those who ate more protein were more likely to adopt other healthier eating habits. The study showed that higher-protein eaters reached for sugary foods less often and for green vegetables more often. Additionally, eating more protein helped the participants retain more of their lean muscle mass, as opposed to eating less protein on a regular basis. 

The researchers hope that these findings highlight the benefits associated with eating diets higher in protein, as they can help consumers adopt healthier habits long-term. 

“It’s somewhat remarkable that a self-selected, slightly higher protein intake during dieting is accompanied by higher intake of green vegetables, and reduced intake of refined grains and added sugar,” said researcher Sue Shapses. “But that’s precisely what we found.” 

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