Protein: Natural Weight Loss Remedy
When I urge people to enjoy “a healthy diet,” I usually offer my general recommendations—lean red meat and fish, fresh fruits and veggies, etc. But sometimes, like when losing weight is the goal, we need fine-tuning—more of this, less of that. Protein is a natural home remedy for weight loss.
Dropping pounds with protein
Compared to fats and carbohydrates, protein helps you feel full sooner and continue feeling full longer. So you stop eating sooner and get hungry again later when eating protein as compared to other macronutrients.
In one study, 20 overweight or obese females 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 and beef breakfasts:
- Produced greater feelings of satiety than the lower-protein breakfasts
- Reduced the production of the hormone ghrelin, which sends the “I’m hungry” message to the brain
- Increased production of leptin, the hormone that signals “I’m full.”
A study of obese males showed that upping 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.
More research, more protein power
The studies just cited were all about feeling full. That should lead to eating less, which should lead to weight loss.
But does it? Let’s not make assumptions.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road—or the protein hits the plate.
A six-month study of 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. Losing 40 pounds in a year? Without savage changes or arcane formulas? Just more protein?
But that’s not all.
The high-protein group also lost more fat and further lowered their triglycerides and free fatty acids than the high-carb group.
In another study, overweight or obese women were given either high-protein or normal-protein diets, with similar low-calorie content, for 3 months.
- All participants lost body fat and weight
- The normal protein dieters lost more lean body mass—muscle you want to keep
- The high protein dieters reported higher levels of satiety and enjoyment of meals
I’m not surprised by that last finding. We all know that doing the right thing is a pleasure unto itself.
I could go on like this. But for now, can we call this a done deal, a closed case?
You need to eat protein for weight loss. Period.
How do we take advantage of this new knowledge?
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 after your usual lunch and dinner times.
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 form. They’re called complete proteins.
Eggs, for example, are complete protein prize-winners, containing all 20 amino acids, and about 6 grams of protein per egg.
Meat—chicken, pork, lamb, beef, bison, venison—is an excellent source, 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.
For vegetarians, “super-grains” are so-called because they contain complete protein—quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth, for example, contain all nine essential amino acids.
They provide the added benefit of a fiber boost—also essential to healthy weight loss. But they’re still carbs, so should be limited according to your dietary regimen.
Plant-based foods that contain 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.
Ever agreeable, incomplete proteins can complement each other—combining with other incomplete proteins to create complete proteins. Throw together rice, lentils, and cashews, for example—bingo—complete protein.
Equally accommodating, incomplete proteins can meet their matches even when you eat different ones at different meals over a day or two. Our bodies hold all of the amino acids we consume in storage, and automatically match up, for example, whole wheat bread in the morning with peas for dinner and almonds for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Voila: complete protein, in endless delicious combinations.
How much protein do we need?
The USDA recommends 56 grams of protein a day for a 160-pound, 40 year-old man, and 46 grams of protein for women—based on a 40 year-old, 140 pound woman. That’s about 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.
Meals that include meat, fish, dairy, or a super-grain can hit that target without additional help. For vegetarian dishes, a few ounces—a small handful—of each complementary protein can do it.
But let’s face it— the protein content of different foods is tremendously variable, and our dining habits aren’t always predictable.
Make whey your natural home remedy for weight loss
If you’re not much of a meat-eater and you’re looking to up your protein intake, whey protein is the way to go. It’s the water-soluble part of milk, and it’s great stuff—absorbed and on the job faster than any other protein, and delivering a substantial amount of L-cysteine, an anti-aging amino acid.
In a study of people taking a specialized whey protein beverage, subjects lost significantly more body fat and less lean muscle than subjects taking the control beverage.
That’s why I recommend all my patients include whey in their daily diet, whether by supplement, or as a beverage, or added to yogurt, a salad, or just about any food.
This ensures protein sufficiency when diet doesn’t provide it—important to those who want to lose a few pounds, and essential for those who must lose many pounds—to save their lives.
Whey products are available in most health food stores and online. Don’t be put off by the packaging, which promises a bodybuilder’s muscle-bound outcome. Whey is good for every body.
Happy high-protein weight loss!
- “Simple Guide To Choosing Complementary Proteins” Published October 26, 2016. Last accessed April 30, 2017.
- “How to Get Enough Protein In Vegetarian|Vegan Diets” Savvy Vegetarian. Published 2016. Last accessed April 30, 2017.
- Nordqvist, Joseph. “Whey Protein: Health Benefits and Side Effects” Medical News Today. Updated September 10, 2015. Last accessed April 30, 2017.
- Nordqvist, Christian. “Calcium and Calcium Deficiency” Medical News Today.Updated November 6, 2015. Last accessed April 30, 2017.
- Matthews, Brian. “How Protein Aids in Satiety and Weight Loss” Published NA. Last accessed April 30, 2017.
- Matthews, Brian. “The Weight Loss Enhancing Superpower Supplements” Published NA. Last accessed April 30, 2017.