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Eat more protein for weight loss

December 21, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Among its countless duties in every cell in your body, protein has always been recognized as a master builder—of just about anything your body needs.  But new research tells us that protein can also help un-build those unwanted pounds you’re trying to shed.

Losing weight can feel like an endless battle. Your mind is saying, “Put the fork down,” but your stomach is saying, “No! I’m still hungry!”

That battle can end when we understand that it’s all about satiety—the feeling of being full.

We’re learning that, compared to fats and carbohydrates, protein helps you feel full sooner and continue feeling full longer.  So you put the fork down sooner and don’t want to pick it up again until much later.

In one study, 20 overweight or obese girls were given either:

  • Cereal containing 13 grams of protein or
  • A breakfast including eggs and beef totaling 35 grams of protein or
  • No breakfast

Results?

The higher-protein egg/beef breakfasts produced greater feelings of satiety than the lower-protein breakfasts. The higher-protein meals also reduced the production of a hormone called ghrelin, which sends out the “I’m hungry” message, while increasing production of leptin, the hormone that signals “I’m full.”

Another study, of obese men, showed that increasing protein to 25 percent of daily caloric intake reduced the craving for late-night snacks by 50 percent and reduced obsessive thoughts about food by 60 percent—an invaluable aid in the “mental game” of weight loss.

The research is full of proof

The studies just cited were all about feeling full.  That should lead to eating less, which should lead to weight loss.

But does it?

Here’s where the rubber hits the road—or the protein hits the plate

A six-month study of 65 overweight or obese participants resulted in:

  • High-carbohydrate diet: 11 lbs lost
  • High-protein diet: 20 lbs lost

That’s almost double the weight loss!

Plus, the high-protein group also lost more fat and lowered their triglycerides and free fatty acids than the high-carb groups.

In another study, 46 overweight or obese women were given either high-protein or normal-protein diets, with similar low-calorie content, for three months.

All participants lost body fat and weight—but the high-protein dieters lost less lean body mass, and also reported higher levels of satiety and enjoyment of meals.

These are just a few of the many, many studies that tell me to hoist the pro-protein flag.

You need to eat protein for weight loss. Done deal. Case closed.

Action points

How do we take advantage of these insights to shed pounds in our day-to-day routines?

Simple.

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Make sure every meal includes some protein (or a complementary protein—see below).

Just replacing carbs with protein, especially for breakfast, is a simple and effective start. You’ll eat less to start the day, have plenty of protein building power working for you throughout the day, and you won’t feel hungry until after your usual lunch and dinner times.

Here are the basics.

Protein: A primer

A protein is a chain of 20 amino acids, of which:

  • Nine are called “essential,” found only in food
  • Eleven are called “nonessential,” produced by our bodies

Animal proteins usually offer all, or most, of the essential amino acids in highly absorbable forms.  They’re called complete proteins.

Eggs, for example, are protein prizewinners, containing “complete” protein, i.e., all 20 amino acids, and about 6 grams of protein per egg.

Then, of course, there’s meat—chicken, pork, lamb, beef, bison, venison—all excellent sources, but only when raised humanely and without hormones or antibiotics.

Same goes for salmon, trout, and shrimp, with their great protein content, and a bonus of omega-3 fatty acids.

Milk and other dairy products are fine sources as well, especially whey protein, which everyone should add to their diets in a supplement.

If meat and dairy aren’t your menu choices, certain “super-grains” are so-called because they contain complete proteins—quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth, for example, contain all nine of the essential amino acids.

And you get the added benefit of a fiber boost—also essential to healthy weight loss.

Plant-based foods containing some, but not all, of the amino acids, are called incomplete proteins.  But that doesn’t mean they’re deficient in any way—it’s the amino acid profile they’re born with.

The good news is that incomplete proteins can complement each other—combining with other incomplete proteins to create complete proteins.  Rice, lentils, and cashews, for example, together contribute all nine essential amino acids.

Our brilliant bodies understand this—just look around the world at staples like rice and beans or lentils, wheat or corn tortillas and beans…the variations are endless.

Equally amazing: you get complete protein even when you eat different incomplete proteins at different meals over a day or two. Our body holds all of the amino acids we consume in storage, and automatically matches up, for example, whole wheat bread in the morning with peas for lunch and almonds for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Voila: complete protein.

How much protein do we need?

The USDA recommends 56 grams of protein a day for a man age 40 weighing 160 pounds, and 46 grams of protein for women—based on a 40 year old woman who weighs 140 pounds. That’s about 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.

You can hit those targets more easily than you might think.  Meals that include meat, fish, dairy, or a super-grain will probably do the job themselves.  To hit the target with vegetarian dishes usually requires only a few ounces—a small handful—of complementary proteins.

You’ll find some delicious complementary protein recipes—and others with meat—in my Newport Natural Health Cookbook. Download it for free here—with my compliments (and complements).

Happy high-protein weight loss!

References

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