Protein is a dieter's best friend. It is an essential ingredient for losing weight and keeping it off because it's a potent calorie burner that plays a role in nearly every body function, from building shapely biceps to regulating sleep and boosting immunity.
High-protein foods take more work to chew and longer to leave your stomach, so you take more time eating (and have more time to register that you're full). They also slow down the release of carbs and fat into your bloodstream. You feel full sooner and stay satisfied longer.
Thing is, eating a steak or a piece of chicken in your car or at your desk at work isn't always realistic, so most of the foods we choose for single-fisted consumption are highly processed and lacking in this essential nutrient. Here are 6 grab-and-go proteins to take with you for a midday snack.
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1) Jerky: Jerky (beef or turkey) makes a great snack because it's low in fat, lean and savory, and high in the chewiness factor (look for lower-sodium varieties if you're concerned about the salt). You can find a wide variety of flavors, from teriyaki to barbecue. You can also find chicken and buffalo (and, in certain parts of the country, salmon) jerky. Jerky packs 10 g of protein and about 100 calories per ounce.
2) Roasted soy nuts: Almonds, peanuts, and cashews are great. But let's face it: You can get burned out on the same nut mix. Try roasted soy nuts for a complete protein snack; for a little extra heat, try the wasabi-flavored ones. Each 1⁄4 cup provides 6 g of protein and 120 calories.
3) Cheese packs: Not just for kids' lunch boxes, string cheese and other portioned cheeses such as The Laughing Cow Wedges or Mini Babybels are the perfect complements to an apple, pear, or bunch of grapes. These low-calorie protein packs are satisfying enough to carry you through to your next meal.
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4) Protein bars: They are the perfect filling, portable snack to save you from a desperate trip to the vending machine or drive-thru. Pick up bars that are about 200 calories each, such as Luna Protein bars (170 to 190 calories, 12 g of protein) or Honey Stinger 10-gram protein bars (190 to 200 calories, 10 g of protein), to stash in your purse or work bag.
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5) Hard-cooked eggs: Eggs really are one of nature's most perfect portable foods. Packed with protein and antioxidants, they satisfy your hunger and improve your health. Try Eggland's Best Hard-Cooked Peeled eggs for a no-muss, no-fuss snack or meal. Along with the usual protein punch, these edible orbs also deliver 10 times more vitamin E and two times more omega-3 fatty acids than other eggs.
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6) Fat-free or low-fat milk: It's the perfect pre- or postexercise snack. You can stock up on small containers of shelf-stable milk (such as Horizon's 8-ounce cartons); they don't even need to be refrigerated. Two cups deliver more than 16 g of high-quality, filling protein that will satisfy your hunger and help keep you hydrated. In one study, women who had 18 g of protein 20 minutes before strength-training torched almost 9% more calories at rest 24 hours later than if they didn't drink the pre-workout milk.
What's your favorite hunger-busting snack?
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