You’re in your 2:00 p.m. class and you find yourself nodding off during the professor’s monotone lecture. But instead of reaching for your latte or a chocolate bar as a quick pick-me-up, opting for a spoonful of peanut butter might do a better job at helping you power through the rest of class.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t feasible to carry around a jar of peanut butter to stave off a midday slump, but what I’m getting at is that protein, rather than caffeine or sugar, will do a better job at keeping you awake.

According to a recent study, protein stimulates certain brain cells, not only keeping us awake, but also telling the body to burn more calories. Those specific cells, known as orexin cells, help regulate the body’s energy and wakefulness. In fact, the loss of orexin cells can result in narcolepsy and weight gain.

In addition to keeping you awake and thin, protein has plenty of other nutritional benefits. Not only does the body use protein to build and repair tissue, but it also makes enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. If that wasn’t enough, protein is also an important element of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

The U.S. Department of Health suggests anywhere from two to three daily servings of protein per day at five to seven ounces each, and chances are, you aren’t getting those daily recommended servings. Here are some good sources of protein to fulfill your daily requirements:

  • Seafood: Naturally low in fat, seafood is a great, low-calorie protein option.
  • Poultry: While white meat is better than dark meat, both are great sources of lean protein. Just make sure to remove the skin first.
  • Beans: A godsend for vegetarians everywhere, beans contain more protein than any other vegetable out there. Added bonus: they also pack a fiber punch, so you feel full for hours after eating them.
  • Nuts: Any nuts will do, but almonds and peanuts pack the most punch. Try natural peanut butter with an apple as a snack.
  • Whole grains: Whole grain bread contains three grams of protein, as well as valuable fiber. Not only that, but it also tastes better than your average white bread.
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt aren’t just great sources of protein, but they’re also essential providers of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Eggs: If you’re worried about the cholesterol of eggs, just use the egg white–that’s where the protein is. But, the American Heart Association says the average person can safely eat an egg a day.

-Amber Brenza

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