Just for a minute, forget about all the myths you’ve heard about high protein diets and weight loss. Leave behind the shakes, bars, and powders you may have reluctantly tried just to get your fix. What’s the point of all this protein? And how much is actually enough?
Protein plays a role in every cell in the body. Most notably, it helps to build and maintain muscle. It’s also needed for immunity and bone health. The current RDA (recommended daily amount) for women is 46 grams and for men is 56 grams. However, for weight loss benefit, experts advise to aim around 100-120 grams.
Whenever I suggest a client add more protein to their diet, they have more energy and sustained fullness. But, the benefits don’t stop here. Research shows that replacing carbohydrates with protein improves satiety (fullness), can lower triglycerides, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Of course certain protein foods are healthier than others. Think lean chicken, turkey, pork, and fish along with beans, green leafy vegetables, low-fat cheese, skim milk, and tofu. Don’t forget about low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, quinoa, nuts, and peanut butter!
There are a few reasons why protein helps with weight loss. First of all, it takes slightly more calories to digest protein than fat or carbohydrates. In addition, according to researchers at the University College in London, protein fills us up with the help of a hormone called “PYY.” When we eat protein, PYY is produced, which is thought to decrease hunger. So, as we increase the amount of protein in our diet, our bodies’ supply of PYY also increases, and our hunger lessens over time, helping us to shed pounds. But not all pounds are the same. Dietary protein helps us to lose fat pounds and maintain lean muscle.
New studies suggest that it’s the amount of protein per meal that matters more than the total protein intake for the day. Think about your metabolism like a furnace. Whatever you put into the furnace affects how it’ll burn. Protein helps to ignite the fire, especially during weight loss when you’re working out. But, if you eat like the typical American, you’re not sparking the fire of your metabolism all day long, as you could be.
You may have cereal and milk at breakfast (10-15 grams of protein), then a sandwich with turkey, lettuce, and tomato (15 grams of protein) or pasta with tomato sauce (10 grams) at lunch. Next comes dinner…our favorite meal of all. At night we feel entitled to gobble down a hearty home-cooked or restaurant-prepared dish. What happens next isn’t surprising…a big fattening meal of too much protein, carbs, and fat!
Instead of such a protein imbalance at meals, we should strive for a consistent amount of at least 30 grams at each meal. Breakfast seems to be where we skimp the most.
Here are some ideas:
- Egg white omelet with turkey, spinach, and tomato
- Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter and a hard-boiled egg
- Greek yogurt with whole grain cereal, almonds, and a banana
- Oatmeal with protein powder with mixed berries and walnuts
- Cottage cheese with fruit and sliced almonds
- Egg and turkey sandwich on an English muffin
- Smoothie with skim milk, yogurt, frozen berries, and 1 scoop of protein powder
You can also add some of these foods to lunch to balance out your intake. Making a concerted effort to eat more protein throughout the day may just be what you need to break your weight loss barriers. Good luck!
Guest Blogger Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN
Sandy Sfikas is a registered and licensed dietitian in Chicago. She’s also a nutrition editor, writer, and blogger. She’s worked in clinical settings as well as fitness facilities. “Change is uncomfortable and if you’re not ready to make changes, I can’t force you. My clients do all the work, and I’m there to facilitate the process. I provide the tools and encouragement to overcome weight loss hurdles. Sometimes a complete lifestyle change is needed, and other times a few tweaks to their current diet can make all the difference.” To contact Sandy, send her an email at email@example.com.