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If you’ve ever struggled with weight management, you may have researched online to find the best diet for achieving your weight loss goals. More than likely, you came across a low-carb diet focusing on high-protein foods. A few years ago, the most popular version of a low-carb diet was the Atkins Diet. However, that diet emphasized eating plenty of animal proteins. What role does protein play in weight loss, and can plant-based protein work? Keep reading. 

What Does Protein Have to Do with Weight Loss?

If you look at the composition of the human body, you’ll notice that after water (which makes up 65% of the body), proteins are the most abundant at 20%. Then fats are 10%, minerals are 4%, and carbohydrates make up 1%. What does that say about our macronutrient balance and what we should be eating?  

Clearly, protein is an essential nutrient. Researchers have found it’s vital to many bodily functions, including growth, repair, and daily maintenance. It’s also needed for hormone production, enzyme secretion, nutrient transport, and many aspects of metabolism. Getting enough protein greatly contributes to overall health and energy. [1][2] 

A higher protein intake can also support a healthy weight. It does so in several ways; by promoting hormone balance, increasing metabolism, and reducing appetite. Yes, protein can help balance your hormones! Here are four significant ways increasing your protein can help you lose weight. 

1 – Protein Affects Key Weight-Regulating Hormones

Most of us know by instinct that hormones have a lot to do with our ability to lose that extra fat. At least, it explains why weight loss seems more challenging for women than for men. But there’s more to hormones than estrogens and testosterone. It turns out gut hormones can be much to blame. However, dietary protein can alter these hormones in ways that support healthy weight loss. 

Protein Decreases the Hunger Hormone, Ghrelin  

Protein consumption can influence hormones related to hunger and satiety. Leptin and ghrelin are two key hormones involved in regulating appetite. Protein-rich meals tend to decrease the hormone called ghrelin (the hunger hormone), helping to control appetite. It’s important to keep ghrelin in balance with leptin to keep us from overeating. [3]

Protein Increases Other Satiety-Enhancing Hormones 

Following a high protein diet increases a few other appetite-reducing gut hormones, including GLP-1, Peptide YY, and Cholecystokinin (CCK). Optimizing these hormones can help you feel more satiated throughout the day. As a result, you’re less likely to have cravings for snacks, sweets, and sugary beverages. Reducing your food cravings alone can support you in the battle of the bulge. [4][5][6]

Protein’s influence on satiety may be due to its direct effects on brain signals related to hunger and fullness. Certain amino acids found in protein-rich foods can influence appetite-regulating neurotransmitters. A good example is the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan. [7] Serotonin makes you feel content, so you’re less likely to reach for those calorie-rich comfort foods.

2 – Protein Decreases Calorie Intake While Increasing Calorie Burning

High-protein foods generally take longer to digest and absorb than carbohydrates. This slow digestion leads to a more gradual release of nutrients into the bloodstream, providing a sustained feeling of fullness, which can help you naturally lower your calorie intake.  

Protein is also the way to go if you’re interested in stoking your metabolism to increase calorie burning. The body expends more energy (calories) to digest and metabolize protein than fats and carbohydrates. A 2020 study published in the journal Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome found that digesting proteins burns triple the calories compared to digesting carbs or fat. [8]  

This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), and it can contribute to increased calorie burning. [9] 

3 – Protein Preserves Lean Muscle

Proteins are composed of amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue. Consuming adequate protein ensures the body has sufficient amino acids for building and repairing muscle proteins. It also helps preserve and enhance your lean muscle mass. [10] This improves your body composition and capitalizes on the thermic effect of food.  

That’s because lean muscle mass is metabolically active, meaning it requires energy to maintain. Preserving lean muscle mass can lead to a higher resting metabolic rate, increasing your natural energy expenditure and making it easier to prevent future weight gain. [11] 

Reaching your daily protein requirements preserves lean body mass during caloric restriction. Because a high-protein diet is so satiating, you may find yourself restricting calories without trying.

4 – Protein Promotes Balanced Blood Sugar

Protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose (sugar) absorption. This helps prevent rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, reducing the likelihood of calories being stored as body fat. [12]

However, protein can be converted into glucose if you’re already having blood sugar regulation problems, so it may be wise to add healthy fats to protein-rich meals.

How Much Protein Do You Need Each Day?

Depending on how active you are, protein should make up 10% to 35% percent of your total daily calories. [13] For 2000 calories, that means 200 to 700 calories come from protein.  Since protein has 4 calories per gram, that means 50 to 175 grams of protein daily for adults.  

A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) would likely use the RDA to guide you in your protein intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Americans is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for sedentary adults. However, that is really the minimum intake needed to prevent malnutrition.  

The RDA is for healthy yet sedentary people. When trying to lose fat or if you’re more physically active, you should increase the amount of protein to support lean muscle mass. A standard recommendation is to consume 1.2 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Those who are considered overweight or obese should limit calories and stick with 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg [14][15]

Unfortunately, most Americans are not getting enough protein in their diets. While those who have been diagnosed with kidney disease may need to limit their intake, most people could stand to eat significantly more protein. 

You can calculate your optimal protein intake here. To learn your ideal number of calories and what you can do to reach your target weight, try the Body Weight Planner here. Consider your needs and preferences and consult a Wellness Way doctor or health restoration coach for personalized advice.  

Remember that a balanced diet with adequate protein and regular physical activity is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight over time. That brings us to the question: what are the ideal protein sources for weight loss?   

Best Sources of Protein for Weight Loss

When you want to lose weight, choose protein sources that are not only rich in protein but also nutrient-dense. That way, they contribute to overall satiety. Here are some excellent sources of protein for weight loss and overall wellness.  

Meat Eater Protein Options

Carnivores and omnivores, rejoice! You have many options for protein-rich foods: 

  • Organ Meats Liver, heart, kidneys, tongue, tripe (stomach), brain, etc.  
  • Grassfed/Pastured Meats – Beef, bison, lamb, pork, elk, etc.  
  • Free-Range Poultry – Chicken breast, turkey, duck, etc. 
  • Organic/Free-Range Eggs Eggs are a complete protein source and can be a versatile addition to your diet. Try duck, goose, or quail eggs to mix it up! 
  • Wild-Caught Fish Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or trout are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 

While low-fat dairy foods like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and even whey protein are often recommended, The Wellness Way typically shies away from cow’s milk. You can learn more by reading this article.  

Vegan Protein Options

It is possible to get your protein needs through all plant sources. However, it’s going to be much less efficient due to something called the DIAAS value. DIAAS stands for Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score. A food’s DIAA score refers to its absorption rate at the end of the small intestine. [16]  

Animal proteins, like meat, casein, and eggs, have an excellent DIAA rating, as do potatoes. Other plant-based proteins, like hemp, peas, and rice, score much lower and cannot claim to be high-quality protein sources. [17] 

You’ll essentially need to eat a greater volume of food on a vegan diet if you want to get enough protein in. Keep in mind that calories still matter! If you need to consume a high number of calories from plant-based foods to get your protein in, you’re not going to lose weight. That’s one reason animal proteins are recommended – They are more efficient sources of protein.  

Doc’s Top 10 plant-based protein sources are the following, beginning with his most recommended: (We’ve also included some ideas on how to cook or prepare these proteins) 

1 – Hemp (5 grams per Tbsp):

Hemp seeds on a salad, hemp protein powder, hemp milk

2 – Chia (2 grams per Tbsp):

Chia pudding, chia fresca, chia protein bars

3 – Lentils (17 grams per cup):

Lentil soup, lentil pasta, lentil curry, lentil “burgers,” lentil-quinoa pilaf, lentil breakfast bowls

4 – Chickpeas (14.5 grams per cup):

Hummus, chickpeas in soup, chickpea pasta, Mediterranean chickpea salad, chickpea pancakes or crepes

5 – Black beans (8 grams per ½ cup):

Black bean dip, black beans in soup, black bean Mexican salad, refried black beans, black bean and quinoa bowls, black bean burgers, black bean breakfast bowls

6 – Pinto beans (15.4 grams per cup):

Pinto beans in soup, refried pinto beans, baked beans

7 – Green peas (8.5 grams per cup):

Split pea soup, peas as a side dish, fresh-shelled peas as a snack, green peas on a salad

8 – Brussels sprouts (5.6 grams per cup):

Roasted Brussels sprouts, Brussels sprouts salad, Brussels sprouts stir-fry, Brussels hash, Brussels slaw

9 – Pistachios (5.9 grams per ounce):

Pistachios by the handful, in a trail mix, even pistachio ice cream!

10 – Quinoa (8.1 grams per cup):

Quinoa pilaf, quinoa bowl, quinoa pasta

Quinoa is one of the few complete sources of vegan proteins, having all nine essential amino acids. However, it does have antinutrients called saponins, so it should be soaked and rinsed before eating. Seeds and legumes (including peanuts) can be a useful source of protein if you’re not willing to eat animal protein. But they need to be properly prepared. 

Even so, it’s much more difficult to get enough protein from these foods because they are less bioavailable. The amount of protein you get may be less than the grams listed above. It all depends on individuality and the health of your digestive system. You can get protein from these plant sources, but you’ll have to eat larger amounts of these foods to get enough dietary protein.  

How to Get Enough Protein on The Go

Getting enough protein when you’re super busy can be challenging. But with some planning and wise choices, it’s certainly achievable. Here are some ideas for getting sufficient protein when you’re on the move: 

When incorporating protein into your diet for weight loss, it’s crucial to consider overall dietary balance. Be sure to include a variety of foods from different food groups beyond proteins. Include vegetables, greens, nuts, a small amount of low-sugar fruit, complex carbs like sweet potatoes, and healthy fats. Healthy eating means you’re getting a broad spectrum of nutrients so you can reap all the health benefits of a whole-food diet. 

The Wellness Way is Here to Support Your Weight Loss Journey

If you’re ready to start slimming down, increasing your energy, and achieving your goals, you have a support network! The Wellness Way has clinics around the country with doctors and health restoration coaches. We are prepared and excited to help find the underlying causes of your weight loss challenges through comprehensive testing and personalized nutrition. Don’t guess at why you’re at a weight loss standstill. Contact one of our Wellness Way clinics today! 

References

  1. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats – PMC (nih.gov) 
  2. Mg, Zn and Cu Transport Proteins: A Brief Overview from Physiological and Molecular Perspectives – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  3. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  4. Ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-h satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  5. Critical role for peptide YY in protein-mediated satiation and body-weight regulation – ScienceDirect 
  6. Regulating satiety in bulimia nervosa: the role of cholecystokinin – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  7. Effects of Nutrients on Neurotransmitter Release – Food Components to Enhance Performance – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov) 
  8. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss – PMC (nih.gov) 
  9. Diet induced thermogenesis – PMC (nih.gov) 
  10. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss – PMC (nih.gov) 
  11. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss – PMC (nih.gov) 
  12. Protein: metabolism and effect on blood glucose levels – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  13. Are you getting too much protein? – Mayo Clinic Health System 
  14. Optimal Protein Intake Guide – Examine 
  15. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals – PMC (nih.gov) 
  16. Protein quality as determined by the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score: evaluation of factors underlying the calculation – PMC (nih.gov) 
  17. Comprehensive overview of the quality of plant‐ And animal‐sourced proteins based on the digestible indispensable amino acid score – Herreman – 2020 – Food Science & Nutrition – Wiley Online Library 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

2 Comments

  • Judy Utley says:

    Thank you for sharing this .I love the Wellness Way and all the staff and Dr. Dr..Flynn and Chrisity are amazing they care about their patients I love the natural way to good health .I was with Dr. Jason now with Dr. Cook in Spring .

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