If you’re managing to eat 7 to 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, give yourself a pat on the back. But don’t be tempted to cut back on protein to make room for all that produce. Recent research has shown that getting a higher percentage of calories from protein helps people get slim and stay that way. This is because protein forms the structure and integrity of every part of the body, and the body’s signal to stop eating is not sent until protein requirements are fulfilled.
Diets high in protein promote weight loss and cardiovascular health
Researchers focused on various diets and their outcomes on energy expenditure and feelings of satisfaction while eating. They considered the impact of diets on weight loss, body composition, cardiovascular risk, and blood sugar control.
They found that protein induced and promoted energy expenditure and feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Diets higher in protein contributed to weight loss and lowered body mass index, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and supported blood sugar stabilization.
When they reviewed results from randomized controlled trials, these scientists then found that an abundance of studies have shown the superior effects on weight loss of diets high in protein compared to lower protein diets.
They concluded that diets in which protein is increased and high carbohydrate foods are decreased help control body weight and composition, as well as several other associated metabolic parameters. (Current Opinions in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, October, 2008)
Protein is the primary nutrient that influences metabolism
According to the FDA, people need 50 grams of protein each day, based on a 2000 calorie diet. This is a diet that provides 200 calories from protein, or ten percent. This amount is seen as providing the minimum to sustain body structure and synthesis, but it ignores the amount of protein needed to preserve muscle during weight loss and exercise. When high quality protein is increased beyond this basic amount, it benefits muscle function and health, as well as facilitating weight loss through the burning of calories.
Protein is the single most important nutrient that influences metabolic rate and helps weight loss. Protein also gives a tremendous boost to overall health, improving immunity and antioxidant function, building HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and enhancing insulin function. Protein facilitates the message to the body to feel satisfied. And all of these functions contribute to the body’s ability to reach and maintain its ideal weight.
“Protein is like 2x4s and plywood showing up at your liver’s jobsite,” according to health expert Byron Richards, who says protein kicks metabolism into gear. He notes that a higher protein breakfast can boost metabolic rate as much as 30 percent for as long as 12 hours.
Protein is critical for many bodily functions
Every cell in the body contains protein. It is a major component of skin, muscles, organs, and glands. Protein is present in all body fluids with the exception of bile and urine. Protein helps keep you looking younger by repairing cells and making new ones. Without optimal levels of protein, the body is unable to sustain and regenerate itself. Protein is especially important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Many health experts including Richards advocate that 30 percent of calories need to come from high quality protein to facilitate weight loss. Another 30 percent should come from carbohydrates, and 40 percent from fat that includes a significant amount of saturated fat. This means that on a typical 2000 calorie diet, 600 of the calories would come from protein.
Richards is a big fan of saturated fats because they produce energy and feelings of satisfaction, unlike the widely promoted processed vegetable oils, which produce inflammation and cancer by deadening cellular energy. Richards recommends that high quality protein should be eaten at each meal and can also be eaten as a snack.
This 30/30/40 ratio should be maintained whether one’s calorie needs are more or less than 2000 calories, which is really just an artificial standard. Anyone who engages in frequent strenuous exercise or has a large body frame will need a higher calorie diet while maintaining the 30 percent guideline for protein.
High quality protein is not necessarily animal protein
Most Americans have been brought up to believe that getting high quality protein involves eating large amounts of animal or dairy products. Yet there is a downside to eating more than minimal amounts of animal protein. Kidney failure, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, gout, and low energy are potential negative effects that come from eating a diet high in animal protein.
The Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce mortality from all causes and promote health and longevity, features small amounts of yogurt and cheese as the only animal protein eaten on a daily basis. Small servings of fish are eaten a few times a week. And land animal flesh is consumed as infrequently as once a month.
The traditional plant based diet consumed by people living in poorer countries supports their hard working lifestyle and leaves them relatively free from disease and obesity. The myth that Americans must consume large amounts of animal protein is the result of pressure by the animal meat industry. The reliance on animal protein places a heavy burden on the body as well as on the environment and resources needed to produce such protein.
Animal protein sold in traditional grocery stores and produced with hormones, antibiotics, and unnatural feed is unfit to eat because it is contaminated.
Vegetable protein is high quality protein
Animal protein is not readily available as human protein, because it must be broken down and reassembled before it can be used by people. Proteins are composed of amino acids, twelve of which are made by the human body. The other nine are called essential amino acids and must be obtained from food. Animal meat and many dairy products contain all the essential amino acids needed for reassembling into human protein. Because they have all the essential amino acids, they are referred to as complete protein.
Some vegetable sources also contain complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, and these amino acids are just as high quality as those from animal sources. They are just as effectively used by the human body.
Six superstars of complete vegetable protein are:
* Soybeans (which should only be eaten fermented)
* Clean Protein offers complete protein from whole grain brown rice and is especially designed to support the immune system and promote detoxification. Rice protein is mild in taste and mixes well with any flavor source. Try Clean Protein blended with coconut milk, fruit or cacao, and ice for a great smoothie. One scoop provides 15g of protein and only 140 calories.
* Balance Protein is the ideal complete vegetable protein food for anyone battling diabetes. This superstar provides 10g of protein per scooop from whole grain brown rice, along with beta-glucans, flaxseed flour, lipoic acid and chromium to provide extra help in decreasing the spike in blood sugar and insulin that typically follows a meal.
For diabetes sufferers a blood sugar spike is followed by a blood sugar plummet, leaving them feeling tired and dragged out soon after a meal. This blood sugar see-saw stresses the adrenal glands and can lead to a host of other health problems. Use Balance Protein directly before or with a meal to get glycemic balance that will keep you going stong all day.
Each of these superstars offers complete protein and can stand alone as the main protein source in any meal.
Foods that offer high levels of incomplete protein include beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and many grains. Beans, lentils, and peas can be easily combined with brown rice or corn to create a delicious complete protein dish. Cheese added to legume or other vegetable dishes, or to grain dishes, creates a complete protein for non-vegetarians. Other combos that create complete protein include bean or lentil soup combined with a side of whole grain crackers, peanut or other nut butter on whole grain bread, whole grain pasta with peas or broccoli, hummus on pita bread, and veggie burgers on whole grain rolls.
If weight loss is your goal, go easy on the choices that include high carbohydrate foods that are rapidly broken down in the body, like pasta, potatoes and bread. Stick to the complete protein superstars.
For more information: