Ever since the days of the Atkins Diet there have been myths, truths, half-truths about protein and weight loss. Does eating more protein help with weight loss? How much protein do you need to be healthy? And which sources of protein are the best for you?
What is Protein?
Proteins are large molecules made up of strings of amino-acids. There are 25 different amino acids and 8 of them considered ‘essential’ as our body has to get them from the food we eat.Proteins help build and repair our body tissues – cells, organs, muscles, bone, skin, hair and fingernails. Protein is also required for making blood, enzymes and hormones.
Which Foods Are Protein Rich?
All animal sourced foods though contain protein and they all have the 8 essential amino acids that our body needs. So are these protein foods the best? Not necessarily. Animal sourced foods also contain saturated fats which are high in calories and eating excessive amount of saturated fats may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers of the stomach and colon. If you are vegan, with planning, you can ensure you get all of your essentail amono acid needs met. For vegetarians, eating some dairy and eggs will easily provide you with the what you need. For those of you who eat meat and fish, know for your health and weight-loss, it helps if meat is eaten in a modest portion sizes, and the additional of oily fish and eggs is beneficial to your diet.
Plant source protein such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains have one or more of the essential amino acids missing. However, eating a wide variety of different plant sourced foods will give you all of the essential amino acids. More importantly protein from plant sources is lower in calories and has many beneficial micronutrients and fibre too. Many of the micronutrients have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties often in more abundance than protein from animal sources.
I believe everyone has to decide what is right for them in terms of whether or not they eat animal sourced protein. This is not about becoming a vegetarian—unless of course you want to—but none-the-less I would like to encourage you to eat less animal sourced food and more plant based food in general to help you both improve your health and also (due to the lower saturated fat content), it may help you to lose weight.
How does eating more protein help me lose weight?
Recording and tracking the amount of protein you eat everyday is not necessary. However, you may like to calculate how much protein you eat on a typical day. Eating more protein helps weight loss in several different ways. In particular:
- Digesting protein takes longer than carbohydrates. After eating a meal or snack with a good level of protein, your stomach will stay fuller for longer.
- After eating protein rich foods, the levels of hunger hormone ghrelin are reduced which helps suppress your appetite.
- A higher protein intake boosts your metabolic rate. This can increase the number of calories you burn by 80–100 calories every day.
- Protein more than carbohydrates and fats can help reduce cravings for sweet and fatty foods. One study showed that increasing the protein content to 25% of calorific need, reduced cravings by 60%.
How much protein do I need to eat?
Protein requirements are based on gender (women need less than men), age (children and the elderly need more) and physical activity levels (physically demanding work or doing lots of sports requires more protein). Breastfeeding mums also need more protein. The Reference Nutrition Intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For example if your weight is 64 kilos (around 10 stone) you need 48 grams of protein a day. The average woman (I so hate this term – because who is average? – however, ‘average’ is used for these types of calculations) needs 45 grams of protein a day to prevent the loss of muscle. Please note that if you are heavily overweight, this calculation is best calculated on what would be your healthy weight rather than you current actual weight. Also know that the vast majority of you will already be eating this minimal amount daily.
To aid weight loss then, the increase in protein is not huge, but rather a modest increase and especially more protein from plant sources rather than meat (see below). As with all dietary advice, please take into account your personal and/or medical requirements.
To see how this might look in real life, I am providing an example of what is fairly typical for me:
An example of a typical Clean Eating day for me.
Breakfast: Porridge made with rice milk, cinnamon plus seeds and nuts: 40 g oats = 4.48. 10 g of pumpkin = 2.42. 10 g of almonds = 2.11. Rice milk and banana minimal protein. Total = 9.01 grams of protein.
Lunch: Stir fried chicken with onion, garlic, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and served with wild/brown and red rice. Fresh Strawberries with natural yoghurt. 75 g of chicken = 24 g (notice this is a small portion of chicken). 100 g vegetables = approx 3 g. 120 g Brown rice = 3.12. 50 g of natural yoghurt = 2.85. Strawberries minimal. Total = 32.97 grams of protein.
4 pm Protein Snack: 1 hard boiled egg with 3 small tomatoes. Total = 12.50 grams of protein.
Evening meal: Salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and snow peas with king prawns. An apple. Salad ingredients minimal, but snow peas help give approx 1 g. 50 g of fresh king prawns = 11.3. Total = 12.30 grams of protein.
Grand Total for the day = 66.78 grams of protein. For my height, weight, age and level of exercise the amount of protein is going to going to help me keep my muscle tone as well as help keep my weight steady.
I hope this has helped you see how eating slightly more protein can help you stay full for longer, minimise cravings and may help you lose weight more easily. And that these changes are easy to implement too.
Eat Well–Be Well 🙂