Hungry? Don’t grab a candy bar. Grab a protein-packed dairy treat instead. New research has shown that protein, including milk protein, helps build muscle, improve muscle function and prevent some chronic diseases.

According to the latest issue of Today’s Dietitian magazine, dairy provides a perfect, protein-packed way of meeting daily protein demands. The average American eats between 1.2 and 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight daily, but this may not be enough to promote health. However, the Institute of Medicine’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range suggests that adults get at least 2.5 grams per kilogram daily.

When it comes to protein food, quality matters. High-quality proteins provide all of the nine essential amino acids. Plants may be an option when it comes to protein options, but the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported that animal products “provide a greater quantity and quality of protein than plant products.”

As it turns out, eating a variety of plant food may provide an array of amino acids, but they also lack calories. Without enough calories, these vegetarian options may force the body to break down muscle to meet energy needs.

Today’s Dietitian suggests that adults turn to milk and dairy products to meet their protein requirements. The list of dairy’s benefits is impressive, including helping lose weight, treat obesity, fight osteoporosis, prevent type 2 diabetes, decrease the risk of stroke and lower the risk for heart disease.

The International Food Information Council Foundation found in its 2012 Food and Health Survey that 88 percent of Americans know the protein helps to build muscle. Sixty percent agreed that protein helps people feel full, while another 60 percent believe that a high-protein diet promotes weight loss.

The article, drawing on data from the U.S. Dairy Export Council, concludes that “in light of the interest in health and wellness, and the fact consumers are demanding more value from their food and beverage products, the use of dairy proteins in the U.S. market has increased and demand has accelerated across the globe.”

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