There is no shortage of fad diets that supposedly help you lose weight. Usually, promoters of these diets lull you with claims that you’ll lose X pounds in only a week and with a minimum of effort. How likely is that? It’s emotions, not reason, that leads people to follow these diets, as they’re not based on science but clever marketing. Who can forget the cabbage soup diet, the cookie diet, or the werewolf diet?
Then there were fad diets loosely based on science like the “eat right for your type” diet and the alkaline diet. But, how many people actually lost weight and sustain it on these diets? The number is very small. That’s why it’s so important to lose weight in a manner that’s sustainable. You can do that by consuming foods that are nutrient-dense, low in sugar, and unprocessed. Science also shows that boosting the protein content of your diet can help. Here’s why.
The Protein Content of Your Diet Positively Impacts Levels of Satiety Hormones
What’s the stumbling block that keeps many people from losing weight? Hunger! That’s where a diet higher in protein can help. Protein alters key appetite hormones in a way that makes you feel satisfied with less and lowers calorie intake. Eating a high-protein meal reduces ghrelin, an appetite hormone that makes you ravenous when it rises. Protein also increases levels of hormones that suppress appetite, like cholecystokinin, peptide YY, and GLP-1. In fact, a study found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of energy while decreasing fat from 35% to 20% and holding carbs constant, reduced calorie intake and led to weight loss in subjects. So, boosting the percentage of protein in your diet is a way to curb hunger.
A Diet Higher in Protein Reduces Loss of Muscle Tissue
Need another reason to boost your protein intake? One of the problems with losing weight is you lose body fat AND muscle. Loss of muscle is undesirable as it slows your metabolic rate and also negatively impacts your body composition. A number of studies show that a diet higher in protein reduces the loss of lean tissue when restricting calories to lose weight. But, for maximal preservation of muscle, it’s important to strength train as well, and if you work your muscles against resistance, you need more protein than a sedentary person anyway.
Your Body Has to Work Harder to Digest It
Your body expends energy to digest and process foods. Protein is a more complex macronutrient than carbohydrates or fat and it has a nitrogen molecule that is processed differently by your body. As such, your body has to work harder and expend more energy to break protein down and make it available to your body. Therefore, digesting and processing protein boosts your metabolic rate more than digestion and processing of carbohydrates and fat. Plus, studies show that a high-protein diet can increase total calories burned per day by as much as 100 calories and that’s independent of other factors such as activity and strength training. That’s a bonus that’s hard to pass up!
It Helps with Belly Fat Loss
If you’re trying to shed stubborn belly fat, a diet higher in protein can help. A study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that consuming high-quality protein, defined as the ratio of essential amino acids to dietary protein in grams, throughout the day was linked with a reduction in abdominal fat. Deep abdominal fat is strongly linked with health problems and boosting the protein content of your diet can help you shed it. That’s a good thing, right?
Does the Type Protein Content of Your Diet Matter?
When you think of protein, visions of animal-based foods probably come to mind. Yet many plants are a good source of protein and they contain fiber, another dietary component that helps with satiety. However, most plant-based proteins are incomplete, meaning they lack one or more essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t make on its own. One exception is soy protein foods, including tofu and tempeh. These foods are high in plant-based protein and also contain all of the essential amino acids. Even if you don’t consume soy, you can get all the essential amino acids you need by eating a variety of plant-based protein sources.
How much protein is optimal for weight loss? Based on the studies, 25% – 30% of total calories from protein is ideal when you’re trying to lose weight. Plus, you’ll get more benefits if you spread your protein intake across the day. Include some with every meal and snack to increase satiety. By doing this, you’ll discover that you don’t crave sugary foods because the protein keeps you satisfied and you don’t have to struggle to control how much you eat. With a higher protein diet, you eat less naturally due to the satiety benefits.
How about the remainder of your diet? Skip the processed foods and choose more non-starchy vegetables when you’re trying to lose weight. The fiber in these foods helps with satiety and these foods are high in volume and help suppress appetite. Add a high-quality source of healthy fat, like extra-virgin olive oil, when you eat vegetables as the healthy fats will help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients, like beta-carotene, from the veggies.
The Bottom Line
If you’re trying to shed extra pounds of body fat and preserve muscle, increasing the protein content of your diet is a smart move. As you can see, a diet higher in protein helps with weight loss in a number of ways. You can choose mostly plant-based protein or a combination of high-quality animal and plant-based protein sources to reach these higher levels. By doing this, you’ll naturally upgrade the quality of your diet as you’re less likely to crave sugary treats if your protein intake is higher. Combine it with strength training and some high-intensity cardio, and don’t be surprised if the weight starts coming off!
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HealthLine.com. “How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally”