I recently put on five pounds and I was quick to blame my frequent dessert eating habit. And while it’s true that I’ve been giving in to my sweet tooth all too often, something bigger was to blame. After meeting with a registered dietitian, I realized that my diet was really lacking in protein.

I thought I was doing my body a favor by filling up on nutrient-rich, low-calorie vegetables and fiber-filled whole grains. But shortly after mealtimes, I regularly found myself craving something more—and usually something sweet and carb-y. Since the scale had started to creep back up, I knew that things had to change. That’s why I was eager to meet with Laura Foresta, RD, LDN.

What’s the big deal about protein? Well, for starters, it increases satiety, which means it helps you feel fuller for longer. Plus I’m training for a marathon, so getting enough protein is essential for my body to build and repair muscle tissues throughout my training. Here’s how Laura suggested that I get more of this super-important nutrient.

Round out your meals
Even though Laura was happy with the amount of exercise I got each week (which prevented me from gaining more than those 5 pounds), she was concerned about the nutritional makeup of some of my meals. My breakfast included a healthy mix of carbs, protein, and fat—like oatmeal with fruit and nut butter. My lunches and dinners, however, often lacked in protein and fat. As I wasn’t feeling satisfied, I would regularly crave quick energy from carbohydrates, like cookies, muffins, and other goodies that I tend to overeat. So she told me to make sure I was including protein and fat at every meal (no more low-fat salads for lunch) in order to curb my cravings.


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Turn to tofu
I’ve never been a big fan of tofu, so I wasn’t thrilled when Laura added it to a list of healthy protein options. Every time I tried to cook tofu before, it turned out mushy and strange. But Laura gave me some easy, step-by-step instructions for making a tasty, firm tofu dish, and now I eat it all the time!

If tofu isn’t your thing, you can, as Laura suggested, incorporate more avocado, beans, legumes, egg whites, soymilk, and sprouted grains in your meals. My meals have actually been pretty delicious since I’ve included protein in them!

Experiment

I’m still experimenting with the right amount of protein and fat my body requires, but I’ve learned that I need to have a little of both at each meal to hold me over until my next one. If I eat a balanced meal of whole grains with protein and fat, my craving for sweets is practically nonexistent, so it’s been so much easier to turn down dessert. A nutrient that keeps my hand out of the cookie jar? Now that’s a miracle!
Read Tina’s daily food and fitness blog, Carrots 'N' Cake.