Many researchers and health professionals state that protein is a key nutrient for weight loss.
Why? Because getting enough protein in your diet has been shown to:
- Reduce appetite
- Positively affect several weight-regulating hormones
- Boost metabolism
So what does this mean for fat loss?
Well, in short, getting enough protein in your diet can help you lose weight and belly fat.
Effect On Eating Behaviours
Many studies have shown that protein helps curb appetite and as a result keep us from overeating.
This is why getting enough protein in your diet can be so effective when it comes to weight loss.
There have been many studies on how protein affects eating behavior.
Common results of these studies include:
- Consuming high protein breakfasts can see people eat up to 135 fewer calories throughout the day (study).
- Consuming enough protein throughout the day can reduce obsessive thoughts about food by 60% (study).
- Consuming enough protein throughout the day (increasing protein to 25% of total calories) can reduce the desire for late-night snacking by 50% (study).
- Consuming enough protein throughout the day (increasing protein intake from 15 to 30% of total caleoris) can help you consume 441 fewer calories per day (study) as you feel fuller for longer throughout the day.
Effect On Metabolism
On top of it’s effect on satiety levels, getting enough protein has also been shown to boost a person’s metabolism by 80 to 100 calories per day (study).
This is because the body uses more calories to metabolise protein (20-30% of total calories in protein eaten go to digesting it) compared to carbohydrates (5-10%) or fats (0-3%).
The Magic Of Breakfast
Studies have shown that by swapping a grain-based breakfast with a high-protein meal of the same caloric value can affect the level of weight loss of a person.
Participants in one study who consumed high-protein breakfasts had a 61% higher reduction in BMI, 65% more weight loss and a 34% greater reduction in waist measurements than those consuming a carbohydrate rich breakfast (study).
How Much Protein?
Whilst there are vastly different opinions on how much protein people require, especially when taking into account individual activity levels, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current state of health, most official nutrition organisations recommend a fairly modest protein intake.
The recommended intake for the average adult as stated by the Australian Dietary Guidelines is as follows:
|19-30 yr||64 g/day (0.84 g/kg)|
|31-50 yr||64 g/day (0.84 g/kg)|
|51-70 yr||64 g/day (0.84 g/kg)|
|>70 yr||81g/day (1.07 g/kg)|
|19-30 yr||46 g/day (0.75 g/kg)|
|31-50 yr||46 g/day (0.75 g/kg)|
|51-70 yr||46 g/day (0.75 g/kg)|
|>70 yr||57 g/day (0.94 g/kg)|
Whilst these stated amounts may be enough to prevent protein deficiency, numerous studies show that such levels are far from sufficient to ensure optimal health and body composition.
Even if we assume the energy intake standards set my nutrition information panels in Australia of 8,700kJ (2,080 calories), we start to see evidence supporting the suggestion that these figures should be treated as a minimum dietary recommendation.
Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges for macronutrients to reduce chronic disease risk whilst still ensuring adequate micronutrient status (resource)
|Nutrient||Lower end of recommended intake range||Upper end of recommended intake range|
|Protein||15% of energy||25% of energy|
|Fat||20% of energy||35% of energy|
|Carbohydrate||45% of energy (predominantly from low energy density and/or low glycaemic index foods)||65% of energy (predominantly from low energy density and/or low glycaemic index food sources).|
When we take the minimum recommendation of 15% protein intake and apply it to the n average adult daily intake level of 8,700 kJ (2,080 calories), we see that the amount of calories we should be consuming from protein is 312 calories, which amounts to 78g of protein (protein contains 4 calories per gram). As we can see, by comparing this figure to those stated in the previously, the recommended consumption is higher than most of those previously stated.
Many researchers argue that the recommended intake of 0.8 g/kg/day, should be considered the minimal amount of protein intake needed to prevent deficiency and is most likely inadequate even as a minimal value for active adults.
Whilst looking at the other end of the spectrum, event the Nutrient Reference Guidelines for Australia and New Zealand state the following:
Whilst an upper level of 25% protein as energy is recommended… “Humans consume widely varying amounts of proteins. Although some adverse effects have been reported with moderate to high levels of supplementation, the risk of adverse effects from foods consumed as part of everyday diets is very low. This consideration, together with the limited data available, makes it impossible to set an upper limit in terms of grams per day.”
And as we saw in the numerous studies referenced at the beginning of this article, where many of the weight loss benefits came from protein intake in the 25-30% of energy intake range, the current recommendation may not be as ideal as many may believe them to be.
High Protein Foods
If you’re considering increasing your protein intake or looking to consume healthier protein options, here is a short list of high-protein foods that can help you lose weight:
- Eggs (Egg whites)
- Steak (Eye of round, Sirloin Tip-Side, Top Sirloin)
- Chicken breast (Skinless)
- Fish (Tuna, Salmon, Halibut, Snapper, Perch, Flounder and Sole, Cod)
- Some protein powder supplements (Read and understand the ingredients label. The fewer ingredients usually means the better)
- Cottage cheese (Check labels for protein, fat and sodium content)
- Tofu (Check ingredient label for additives)
- Plain greek yogurt (Check labels for protein, fat and sugar content)
- Beans (Soy, Black, Navy, Pinto)
- Lentils (And Split Peas)
- Oats (Rolled and Quick. Check the label for protein content)
- Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Pistachios)
As always, it is recommended to you speak to a registered dietitian or your GP before making any significant changes to your diet.