Some people turn to higher-protein diets to lose weight. That’s because some researchers suggest that higher-protein diets help people better control their appetites and calorie intake.
Diets with 30% protein are now being considered “reasonable” and the term “high protein diet” is now reserved for diets with over 50% protein.
Diets higher in protein and moderate in carbs — along with regular exercise – are often thought by experts to reduce blood fats. It also helps maintain lean tissue while burning fat for fuel. And this happens without dieters being sidetracked with constant hunger.
Researchers don’t understand exactly how protein works to reduce appetite. They think that it may be because a protein causes the brain to receive lower levels of appetite-stimulating hormones. Fewer insulin spikes lead to less fluctuation of sugar levels — and therefore fewer cravings. It may also be due to eating fewer carbs or the specific protein’s effect on hunger hormones and brain chemistry.
What the Studies Show
More research is needed before experts can make sweeping recommendations that people boost the protein in their diets, according to the American Dietetic Association.
But some new research hints that protein may be able to satisfy hunger better than either fats or carbohydrates.
For example, in a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people were put on a diet in which:
• Fat was reduced to 20% of calories
• Protein was increased to 30% of calories
• Carbs made up 50% of diet
People on that diet reported that they:
• Were more satisfied
• Less hungry
• Lost weight
Another study in the Journal of Nutrition combined a high-protein diet with exercise. People in that study had:
• Enhanced weight loss
• Improved blood fat levels
How Much Protein Do You Need?
You need protein at all stages of life. It’s the major component of all cells, including muscle and bone. It’s needed for:
• Immunity to fight off infections and protect the body
The Institute of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations allow for a wide range of protein intake. The range is anywhere from 10% to 35% of total calories for normal, healthy adults.
For example, on an 1,800-calorie diet, you could safely eat anywhere from 45 grams (10% of calories) to 158 grams (35% of calories) of protein per day.
But the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is:
• Men: 56 grams a day
• Women: 46 grams a day
Most Americans have no problem getting this much, but would struggle to take in enough protein to make up 35% of their calories.
Is it possible to eat too much protein? There are no dangers associated with higher intakes of protein — unless you have kidney or liver disease.
To get the potential weight loss benefit, experts advise aiming for around 120 grams of protein a day. If you want to increase your protein intake, do it slowly over the course of a week.
To be on the safe side, check with your doctor before adding large amounts of protein to your diet.
Controlling Your Appetite
In theory, losing weight is quite simple. Just eat less and exercise more. But putting that into practice can be complicated. Finding a diet that you enjoy that works with your lifestyle and has the right combination of nutrients is a very individual process.
Some people fare better on one diet whereas others are hungry all the time on the same diet.
And of course, if you’re hungry all the time, eating fewer calories will be challenging.
For better appetite control, try dividing your daily calories into smaller meals or snacks and enjoy as many of them as possible early in the day, with dinner being the last meal.
Research suggests eating four to five small meals or snacks per day to control appetite and weight.
And as long as you stay within the recommended limits, you can try adding some more protein to your diet.
The Best Protein Sources
Protein is important but so are carbohydrates, fats, and total calories.
For a higher protein diet, include lean and low-fat sources of protein at every meal as part of a calorie-controlled diet. You should also stock up on “smart carbs” such as:
• Whole grains
Also try healthy fats such as:
Not all protein is created equal. Be sure to look for protein sources that are nutrient-rich and lower in fat and calories, such as:
• Lean meats
• Low-fat dairy
Here are some good sources of protein, as listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Food Protein grams
1 ounce meat, fish, poultry 7
1 large egg 6
4 ounces milk 4
4 ounces low-fat yogurt 6
4 ounces soy milk 5
3 ounces tofu, firm 13
1 ounce cheese 7
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese 14
1/2 cup cooked kidney beans 7
1/2 cup lentils 9
1 ounce nuts 7
2 tablespoons peanut butter 8
1/2 cup vegetables 2
1 slice bread 2
1/2 cup of most grains/pastas 2
Ways to Pump Up the Protein
If you’d like to start including more lean protein in your daily diet, try these simple tips if you do not have issues with dairy products:
• Take yogurt with you to the gym and enjoy it as a post-workout booster.
• Make your breakfast oatmeal with milk instead of water.
• Snack on fat-free mozzarella cheese.
• Use a whole cup of milk on your cereal.
• Try smoked salmon or one of the new lean sausages for breakfast.
• Take along a hard-boiled egg for an easy snack.
• Munch on edamame beans at meals and snacks.
• Choose round or tenderloin cuts of meat.