How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight
When it comes to losing weight, most of you probably think of cutting back on calories, eating less fat, fewer carbs, smaller portions and eating more veggies. But I bet most of you didn’t think about this – eating more protein can help you lose weight! Now this doesn’t pertain to those of you are already on high protein diets. But I have many clients, especially those who are dieting, who don’t eat enough protein …or don’t eat it at the right time. You may find that tweaking your protein intake can have an effect on getting the scale to drop. Read on to find out more about protein’s role in weight loss.
Function of protein in the body
Protein is a building block of cells throughout the body. It’s necessary for healthy skin, nails, muscles, cartilage and blood. Protein helps to build and repair bodily tissues, and is used to produce hormones and enzymes. Importantly, protein helps to build muscles – and as we all know, muscle burns more calories than fat. One of the problems with dieting is that as we lose weight, we tend to lose muscle mass as well. Eating adequate amounts of protein helps to slow or prevent this loss of muscle. In addition to slowing loss of muscle mass, eating adequate protein can help you lose weight in other ways.
Ways protein can help you lose weight
– Eating protein burns calories
You actually burn more calories digesting some foods (called diet induced thermogenesis) than others. The thermogenic effect of fat is 0-3%, carbs are 5-10% and protein is 20-30%. This means you would burn approximately 25 calories when digesting 100 calories of protein. So that 100 calorie piece of chicken really only has 75 calories. Keep in mind that this is for lean protein – not a fatty steak! Compare this to a 100 calorie slice of bread – you only burn 5-10 calories in digestion.
– Protein helps keep you feeling full
Think about what makes you feel fuller – an omelet for breakfast or a bowl of cereal? Numerous studies have demonstrated that diets higher in protein can help you feel full longer. The exact mechanism as to how protein increases satiety is not known. A recent study in Cell, mapped out chain reactions of signals that were sent to the brain after digesting protein. These signals were somehow able to indicate satiety.
-Protein at breakfast can curb eating later
Starting the day with some protein can help curb cravings later in the day. A study that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that “eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks,” says study author Heather Leidy.
– Protein can help prevent loss of muscle mass that occurs with dieting
Did you know what when you lose weight, some of this loss tends to come from muscle? This is the last thing you want to do because muscle burns more calories than fat. One pound of muscle burns 7-10 calories as compared to fat which burns 2-3 calories (source: Sparkpeople). This study showed that increasing your protein intake while dieting will prevent loss of muscle mass. And better yet – add in weight training in addition to consuming adequate protein!
– Time your protein intake for even better results
It’s been shown that we can’t utilize much more than 30 grams of protein at at time (source SCAN Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Spring 2011 newsletter p. 2) . So if your weight loss diet consists of a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a vegetable salad for lunch and a large piece of fish for dinner, while you may actually be meeting your protein needs, you are not eating optimally as your diet is too low in protein during the day and bottom loaded at night. You’d be better off adding protein to your salad, having a smaller piece of fish at dinner and adding some Greek yogurt to your cereal. Now you have a good protein source at all meals.
The bottom line:
1. An inadequate protein intake or poor protein timing may be slowing your weight loss and/or promoting greater loss of muscle mass. Now don’t take this to an extreme and think that the more protein you take in the better. Your body can only utilize a certain amount of protein. The rest turns into fat or gets used as fuel.
2. Be cautious with your protein intake, especially animal protein, if you have gout or kidney disease. Please check with your doctor as to what the correct amount of protein is for you.
3. Don’t become overly focused on protein and neglect other nutrients in your diet. Carbs are not “bad”! We need them for many reasons including the fact that they help prevent loss of lean muscle mass.
4. Select lean and/or heart healthy sources of protein including fish, skinless poultry, lean mean, nonfat or low fat diary, soy, legumes and nuts and seeds (nuts and seeds are higher in heart healthy fats).
5. Vegans can easily meet protein needs with a little planning.
6. Pay attention to how various foods make you feel. Does adding grilled chicken to your lunch make you feel full longer than beans? How about having a Greek yogurt and fruit in the morning versus a regular yogurt?
Stay tuned for my next blog post on the protein content of foods!
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.