An extra punch of protein

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Stephanie Ward's protein-packed diet includes smoothies, beans and fortified chocolate bars.

"I'm more inclined to buy the ones that have the little label on it that says 27 grams of protein." she said.

Experts say Americans like Ward have an insatiable appetite for protein, thanks to research showing it can help shed pounds and keep you fuller for longer.  To satisfy the cravings, manufacturers are adding protein to foods that may not have had it naturally.

"We're seeing protein being added to just about everything. Granola bars, breakfast cereals, breads," said Phil Lempert, who's also known as the Supermarket Guru.

Even drinks like almond milk and water are adding potein, making the United States the biggest market for high-protein products in 2012.  Lempert says with the price of meat and poultry on the rise, consumers are eating up these new, protein fortified options.

"What we're discovering through good science is that there's a lot of vegetable proteins out there that are very tasty," he added.

Some of the hottest ones include hemp, lentil and pea protein.

"A lot of these proteins are dairy free. They're soy free. They're gluten free, and they're a great additive, especially for people that don't eat meat," said Jim White with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

They are also good for people who have certain food allergies.  But the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says while protein is essential, it should only make up 10% to 35% of your daily calories.

"The average American consumes about double the recommended amount of protein. People need to know not to go overboard," said White.

That's because more protein isn't necessarily better.

"Consuming double the amount of protein we need can cause stress on the kidneys. It can increase the urinary loss of calcium. It also can cause dehydration," added White.

To keep things in check, aim for 25 grams of protein per meal.  Also, watch your portion size.  And when you can, stick with traditional sources of protein.

"We're looking at beef.  We're looking at fish, turkey, dairy sources," said White.

Since Ward doesn't eat meat, she feels fortified foods help fuel her workouts.

"I just want to make sure that I have enough in my body to build muscle," she said.

If you're on a high-protein diet, White says you'll need to cut back on carbs or fat.  Otherwise, you risk putting on weight instead of losing it.

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