• Feb 2024

What does protein do and what are its health benefits?

What does protein do and what are its health benefits?
  • Eating enough protein comes with benefits for your entire body. It can help balance your glucose levels, build and maintain lean muscle, curb cravings, and boost your metabolism.
  • Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and vital for your body to carry out important functions. While your body can make some amino acids, there are nine you can only get from food called essential amino acids.
  • Amino acids are found in both plant and animal foods, but animal sources tend to be complete proteins, which contain all nine essential amino acids.  Examples of complete protein foods include seafood, poultry, meat, dairy products, soy, and tofu.

Protein is the macronutrient (macro, for short) that gets the most hype — and for good reason.  While it’s best known for helping you build muscle, this macro can do way more than aid your efforts in the gym. Research shows that protein benefits your entire body, from boosting your metabolism to supporting bone and heart health.  

Below, read on about the health benefits of protein and how to get more of this superstar macronutrient in your diet.

What does protein do?

Protein is made up of amino acids. These building blocks are vital for your body to carry out important functions. (1)

While your body can make some amino acids on its own, there are nine you can only get from food. These are called essential or indispensable amino acids. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are known as “complete proteins” and include any animal-based sources of foods such as eggs, chicken, beef, and yoghurt. Few plant-based foods, like soy, tofu, tempeh, and quinoa contain all 9 essential amino acids making them great plant-based protein options.  

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are vital for your body to carry out important functions, such as helping you build and maintain lean muscle, balance blood sugar, and manage your weight, among other benefits. 

The current Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for protein — eating 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight each day — is not nearly enough for optimal health and well-being. The RNI set by the UK government is the absolute minimum adults should consume to prevent muscle atrophy and other negative health complications associated with a lack of protein intake.

Although exact protein needs may vary from person to person, Lingo’s Director of Medical Affairs and Clinical Research Jim McCarter, MD, PhD, recommends eating about 1.5 g of protein per kg of desired bodyweight — twice the current RNI. If your goal weight is 68 kg, that means eating 102 g of protein each day. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein at meals and 15-30 grams of protein for snacks.

It’s important to note that this is a general guideline and not a substitute for medical advice. For more personalised nutritional guidance, please visit a registered dietitian or other qualified health care professional.

What are the health benefits of protein?

  1. Building muscle mass
    Protein is essential to building muscle tissue. Eating enough protein in conjunction with resistance training, also known as strength training (such as lifting weights), is shown to increase muscle mass and strength. (2)

    Eating enough protein can also help you maintain that lean muscle mass, especially if you’re cutting calories to lose weight. (2) More muscle mass means more calories burned at rest, improved blood sugar control, reduced risk of injury and disease, and more.

  2. Fewer cravings
    If you’ve ever felt hungry after eating a bagel with cream cheese or a bowl of pasta, you’ve likely surmised that carb-heavy meals aren’t enough to keep you full. Out of all three macronutrients, protein is the most satiating.

    That means eating more protein can help ward off cravings and help you feel fuller for longer. (3) Including a source of protein in every meal and noshing on high-protein snacks — such as edamame, yoghurt, or jerky —can help keep you satisfied throughout the day.

  3. More balanced blood sugar levels
    Protein helps regulate your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose). Pairing carbs with a source of protein can help blunt a glucose spike that can leave you feeling sluggish and hangry (hungry + angry). (4)

    So next time you’re craving some pasta, make sure to pair it with meatballs or grilled chicken. Or if you’re ordering a bagel for breakfast, pile it high with lox or an omelette. Eating a high-protein breakfast can help keep glucose levels steady throughout the whole day. (5)

  4. Burning calories
    The thermic effect of food (or TEF, for short) refers to the energy, or calories, your body burns by digesting and absorbing food. Protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. So that means your body burns more calories digesting and processing protein than it does carbs or fat.

    In fact, 30 percent of the calories consumed from protein are burned off. (6) The higher the TEF, the more of a boost to your metabolism you’ll see. Because protein burns more calories than other macros, eating more protein may aid in weight loss by helping you take in fewer calories, and weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. (6) 

  5. Supports bone health
    Eating enough protein – including protein from animal sources – can support your skeleton. Research reviews have shown that a high-protein diet can support bone health by helping with calcium absorption (calcium is another nutrient your bones require to stay strong) as well as helping secrete growth hormones and maintain muscle mass. (7)

    Eating enough protein is especially important as you age because the ageing process is associated with a decline in bone density, as well as decreases in muscle mass and strength after your 30s. (8)

  6. Helps lower blood pressure
    Hypertension, or high blood pressure (BP), puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the leading causes of death globally. Taking measures to lower your BP if it’s high includes lifestyle factors like your diet and specifically eating enough protein. Research shows that a protein-rich diet is linked to lowering both systolic blood pressure (the top number of your BP reading) by 1.4 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 3.5 mmHg in people with hypertension. (9)

  7. Helps lower cholesterol
    Swapping some of the carbs in your diet for protein may have favourable effects on your cholesterol levels. In fact, eating a healthy protein-rich diet is associated with lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is your “bad” cholesterol, as well as decreasing triglycerides. (10) Having high LDL and triglyceride levels are linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

A final note from Lingo

Eating enough protein is essential for so many processes in your body, including building and maintaining lean muscle, controlling cravings and appetite, balancing blood glucose levels, revving your metabolism, and supporting bone and heart health. 

Not only do you need to eat enough protein, but it’s also recommended to diversify your sources. Including a mix of different proteins — such as beans, tofu, dairy, animal meats and poultry, seafood, legumes, and whole grains — can help you get all your amino acids to support your whole-body health.  


  1. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Protein and Amino Acids. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234922/ 
  2. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients. 2019 May 22;11(5):1136. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31121843/ 
  3. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. PMID: 18469287. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18469287/ 
  4. Murillo S, Mallol A, Adot A, Juárez F, Coll A, Gastaldo I, Roura E. Culinary strategies to manage glycemic response in people with type 2 diabetes: A narrative review. Front Nutr. 2022 Nov 10;9:1025993. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.1025993. PMID: 36438742; PMCID: PMC9684673.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36438742/
  5. Xiao K, Furutani A, Sasaki H, Takahashi M, Shibata S. Effect of a High Protein Diet at Breakfast on Postprandial Glucose Level at Dinner Time in Healthy Adults. Nutrients. 2022 Dec 24;15(1):85. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36615743/ )
  6. Tappy L. Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans. Reprod Nutr Dev. 1996;36(4):391-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8878356/ 
  7. Kerstetter JE, Kenny AM, Insogna KL. Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2011 Feb;22(1):16-20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21102327/ 
  8. Larsson L, Degens H, Li M, Salviati L, Lee YI, Thompson W, Kirkland JL, Sandri M. Sarcopenia: Aging-Related Loss of Muscle Mass and Function. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jan 1;99(1):427-511. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30427277/
  9. Altorf-van der Kuil W, Engberink MF, Brink EJ, van Baak MA, Bakker SJ, Navis G, van 't Veer P, Geleijnse JM. Dietary protein and blood pressure: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2010 Aug 11;5(8):e12102. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20711407/ 
  10. Appel LJ, Sacks FM, Carey VJ, et al. Effects of Protein, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate Intake on Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids: Results of the OmniHeart Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2005;294(19):2455–2464.  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/201882  

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