By David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.N.
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Dr. David Heber

It is well established that the typical person eating a western-type diet consumes more daily calories than he needs. High-calorie snacks filled with fats and sugars contribute to these extra calories. Protein packed bars, drinks, soups, and nuts are far superior to other snacks because of the inherent differences between protein and sugars and fats.

First off, protein is more satisfying than the other two macronutrients because of specific signals it sends to the brain. When we snack on protein instead of sugars and fats, the body feels more full which helps people control their appetite between meals thus cutting calories and controlling their weight. Recent clinical research has supported this physiologic phenomenon.

A second reason for choosing protein as a snack is its thermogenic effect. This refers to the metabolic tax a food puts on the body after we eat it. This metabolic tax for protein is much higher than sugar or fat because the body uses more energy to digest it. This means that when you choose protein over the other two, you are burning more calories during the process of digestion. Having this higher tax rate is good because protein tends to be low in caloric content, so the body is working harder on fewer calories.

A third reason to choose protein snacks over sugars and fats is the body's need to replenish the building blocks of muscle tissue. Muscle is important for our daily activities and it determines our metabolism. So the more we maintain our healthy lean muscle mass, the higher we maintain metabolism.

So the next time you reach for a snack, choose a protein-rich bar, drink or soup. Avoid high-calorie chips, cookies, candies and sweets. They are generally much higher in calories, and they offer little nutritional value to the body.

Dr. Heber also serves as chairman of the Herbalife Scientific and Nutrition Advisory Boards.

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