As animal protein gains favor in consumers' eyes, research projects are helping to show the potential for beef and other animal-based proteins to improve health.

Nutrition researchers and dieticians are also changing their tune about the benefits of increasing protein in our diets. Several findings in the past dozen years or so have really boosted the "stock price" of protein.

In review, here are a few of the findings now accepted or gaining acceptance as valid scientific theory:

  • Higher-protein diets support body weight loss and maintenance of that loss.
  • Higher-protein diets offer greater satiety (fullness/satisfaction) and decrease snacking.
  • Distributing protein consumption across all meals in a day appears to improve weight management and appetite control.
  • The amino acids in animal protein appear better at supplying the "essential" amino acids for humans, meaning those we cannot synthesize and must take in, than are plant proteins. One example is leucine, which seems to play a unique role in skeletal muscle protein synthesis and may improve satiety and insulin sensitivity. Leucine is found in higher concentrations in animal proteins than in plant proteins.
  • As we age, our bodies are less able to use the amino acids from protein to maintain muscle mass, therefore physical mobility.
  • Early research trials suggest increasing protein intake from middle age forward, together with increased physical activity, may improve retention of muscle mass and reduce frailty.
  • Animal proteins provide more and higher-quality proteins than can plant-based proteins, and they deliver with fewer total calories. For example, three ounces of lean beef contains 25 grams of protein and 154 calories, while six tablespoons of peanut butter contains 25 grams of protein but 564 calories.

Many of these are relatively small studies, but they create momentum and make way for larger studies to further test the hypotheses and/or theories they present, explains Shalene McNeill, executive director of nutrition research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

These and other findings have been supported by research in recent years by the Beef Checkoff and other animal industry groups such as the Dairy Research Institute, Egg Nutrition Center and the National Pork Board.

These groups have worked with the scientific community to sponsor "protein summits" in 2007 and 2013 to examine the importance and processes of protein, especially animal protein, in the human diet.