When it comes to losing weight, most of you probably think of cutting back on calories, eating less fat, fewer carbs, smaller portions and eating more veggies. But I bet most of you didn’t think about this – eating more protein can help you lose weight! Now this doesn’t pertain to those of you are already on high protein diets. But I have many clients, especially those who are dieting, who don’t eat enough protein …or don’t eat it at the right time. You may find that tweaking your protein intake can have an effect on getting the scale to drop. Read on to find out more about protein’s role in weight loss.
Function of protein in the body
Protein is a building block of cells throughout the body. It’s necessary for healthy skin, nails, muscles, cartilage and blood. Protein helps to build and repair bodily tissues, and is used to produce hormones and enzymes. Importantly, protein helps to build muscles – and as we all know, muscle burns more calories than fat. One of the problems with dieting is that as we lose weight, we tend to lose muscle mass as well. Eating adequate amounts of protein helps to slow or prevent this loss of muscle. In addition to slowing loss of muscle mass, eating adequate protein can help you lose weight in other ways.
Ways protein can help you lose weight
– Eating protein burns calories
You actually burn more calories digesting some foods (called diet induced thermogenesis) than others. The thermogenic effect of fat is 0-3%, carbs are 5-10% and protein is 20-30%. This means you would burn approximately 25 calories when digesting 100 calories of protein. So that 100 calorie piece of chicken really only has 75 calories. Keep in mind that this is for lean protein – not a fatty steak! Compare this to a 100 calorie slice of bread – you only burn 5-10 calories in digestion.
– Protein helps keep you feeling full
Think about what makes you feel fuller – an omelet for breakfast or a bowl of cereal? Numerous studies have demonstrated that diets higher in protein can help you feel full longer. The exact mechanism as to how protein increases satiety is not known. A recent study in Cell, mapped out chain reactions of signals that were sent to the brain after digesting protein. These signals were somehow able to indicate satiety.
-Protein at breakfast can curb eating later
Starting the day with some protein can help curb cravings later in the day. A study that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that “eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks,” says study author Heather Leidy.
– Protein can help prevent loss of muscle mass that occurs with dieting
Did you know what when you lose weight, some of this loss tends to come from muscle? This is the last thing you want to do because muscle burns more calories than fat. One pound of muscle burns 7-10 calories as compared to fat which burns 2-3 calories (source: Sparkpeople). This study showed that increasing your protein intake while dieting will prevent loss of muscle mass. And better yet – add in weight training in addition to consuming adequate protein!
– Time your protein intake for even better results
It’s been shown that we can’t utilize much more than 30 grams of protein at at time (source SCAN Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Spring 2011 newsletter p. 2) . So if your weight loss diet consists of a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a vegetable salad for lunch and a large piece of fish for dinner, while you may actually be meeting your protein needs, you are not eating optimally as your diet is too low in protein during the day and bottom loaded at night. You’d be better off adding protein to your salad, having a smaller piece of fish at dinner and adding some Greek yogurt to your cereal. Now you have a good protein source at all meals.
The bottom line:
1. An inadequate protein intake or poor protein timing may be slowing your weight loss and/or promoting greater loss of muscle mass. Now don’t take this to an extreme and think that the more protein you take in the better. Your body can only utilize a certain amount of protein. The rest turns into fat or gets used as fuel.
2. Be cautious with your protein intake, especially animal protein, if you have gout or kidney disease. Please check with your doctor as to what the correct amount of protein is for you.
3. Don’t become overly focused on protein and neglect other nutrients in your diet. Carbs are not “bad”! We need them for many reasons including the fact that they help prevent loss of lean muscle mass.
4. Select lean and/or heart healthy sources of protein including fish, skinless poultry, lean mean, nonfat or low fat diary, soy, legumes and nuts and seeds (nuts and seeds are higher in heart healthy fats).
5. Vegans can easily meet protein needs with a little planning.
6. Pay attention to how various foods make you feel. Does adding grilled chicken to your lunch make you feel full longer than beans? How about having a Greek yogurt and fruit in the morning versus a regular yogurt?
7. Read my previous post on higher protein breakfast ideas
Stay tuned for my next blog post on the protein content of foods!
We all know fruit is healthy, but the question is – can eating fruit lead to weight gain? After all, Weight Watchers allows UNLIMITED fruit in their weight loss plans. So do the calories in fruit count the same as calories in other foods – or are they “free”?
I decided to write this post today because I’ve been seeing a lot of “fruit confusion” in my practice. Many of my clients don’t eat enough fruit partly in fear of the sugar causing weight gain (or raising blood sugar in the case of diabetics). On the other hand, some people MAY be eating too much fruit when it comes to weight control. The mentality here is that fruit is healthy – so how many calories can it really have?
Let me start by saying that I doubt that eating too much fresh fruit is the cause of weight gain for 90% of the population! If we do have blame “fruit”, fruit juice or dried fruit would be more of a culprit. Pretty easy to chug down a 16 oz carton of orange juice. This is the equivalent to eating 4 oranges! Compare what 15 grapes and 15 raisins look like. They contain the same amount of calories. That being said, if you are having trouble losing weight despite eating a very healthy diet (and exercising of course!), it may be time to take a look at your fruit consumption.
Fruit serving Calories/carb grams
Apple, medium — 90/18
Apple, dried, 10 rings — 155/42
Apricots, dried, 10 halves — 83/22
Banana, medium — 110/27
Prunes, dried, 5 — 100/26
Dates, dried, 5 — 114/30
Raisins, 1 1/2 oz box — 130/33
Orange, medium — 60/15
Grapes, 1 cup — 65/16
Cherries, 15 — 75/17
Grapefruit, 1/2 medium — 41/10
Cantaloupe, 1 cup cubed — 55/13
Honeydew, 1 cup cubed — 64/16
Peach, large — 60/15
Clementines, 2 — 70/18
Pear, medium — 95/25
Blueberries, 1 cup — 85/21
Strawberries, 1 cup — 45/11
My thoughts on fruit:
1. Fruit is a healthy food and should be part of your diet. The general recommendation is for us to consume at least 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit a day. However the exact amount will depend upon your caloric needs, medical issues and what the rest of your diet is like. See ChooseMyPlate.gov
2. Fruit is a preferred snack to processed snacks for several reasons: 1. it contains more nutrients 2. the water and fiber in fruit can fill you up more 3. it is more difficult to store natural foods into fat as compared to processed foods. Read my previous post that explains how processed foods are stored more easily as fat. (pic credit: www.bidorbuy.co.za )
3. When it comes to weight loss, some people CAN eat unlimited fruit and still lose weight (probably because they are substituting fruit for the junk food they used to eat!). However the majority of people will have to account for the calories. They are not “free” like many vegetables.
4. If you are having difficulty losing weight and are a big fruit eater, you may want to take a more detailed look at how much fruit you are eating. It’s possible you’re eating more calories than you think from fruit. You may also want to focus more on the fruits where you get “the biggest bang for your buck”. One half a banana is the caloric equivalent to 1 1/2 cups of strawberries.
5 .If you are watching your weight or need to watch carb intake for diabetes or pre-diabetes, be careful with your intake of juice and dried fruit. The calories and carbs add up quickly!
6. If you have trouble controlling your intake of fruits such as grapes and cherries, try putting a large handful into a bowl and put the bag away. Or try freezing grapes – a refreshing treat for hot summer days … it will also slow down your rate of eating! You do freeze other fruits such as sliced mango or peaches – great for smoothies too.
7. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, this does NOT mean you have to avoid fruit. However you just need to pay attention to the amount of fruit you are eating as well as the portion sizes. I would recommend that you meet with a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator to discuss your intake of fruit.
*To take the fruit issue a step further, we could talk about the glycemic index and glycemic load – however since I am trying to shorten my posts, I will discuss this in an upcoming post!
Lastly, if any of you have medical issues that may warrant a limitation on fruit (such as diabetes or prediabetes) and are still confused, you are welcome to contact me to set up a nutrition consultation session. I am a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator and can educate you on carb counting and help you plan sample meals. My website is www.marthamckittricknutrition.com and phone number is (212) 879-5167