While you’re chowing down on all those healthful fresh fruits and vegetables (hopefully), don’t forget to eat plenty of protein, too. A growing pile of research is finding that people who eat higher levels of protein stay slim and trim compared to those who don’t.
How can eating more make a person slimmer? Protein is so integral to the formation and maintenance of every part of the body, that the signal to put down your knife and fork doesn’t get sent until you’ve eaten enough protein.
Probably in an effort to keep recruits trim and fit, the US military has been doing quite a bit of research on how eating more protein affects the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. One of their recently published studies assessed data from the nationally-recognized NHANES study, which involved 23,876 people age 19 and older.
After cardio-metabolic risk factors such as weight, blood pressure, glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and triglycerides were factored in, the researchers concluded that higher protein diets are associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, as well as higher HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ kind), compared to protein intakes that were at the recommended daily level (RDA).
Their data suggested that Americans who consume dietary protein between 1.0 and 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight are likely to have a lower risk of developing cardio-metabolic disease.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen recently studied the role of higher protein diets in weight control and other disorders that come along with diabetes. They focused on increasing protein, reducing carbohydrates, and choosing carbohydrates from the low end of the glycemic index, rather than from the higher end. The glycemic index is a numerical index given to a carbohydrate-rich food that is based on the average increase in blood glucose levels occurring after that food is eaten.
Participants ate one of six diets for a period of 6 months, with each diet differing in protein content and glycemic index. The higher protein and lower glycemic diet group showed weight loss and the ability to prevent regaining that weight for a year or more. This diet also reduced body fat and obesity, and was beneficial for blood pressure, lipids, and inflammation.
Eating Higher Protein Confers a Range of Benefits
Eating more protein than the RDA calls for produces a spectrum of benefits, the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine says in a just-published report. Studies have demonstrated that higher protein diets may spare lean body mass during weight loss, promote weight management, enhance glycemic regulation, and increase intestinal calcium absorption – which may result in long-term improvement in bone health.
According to them, the extent to which higher protein diets promote beneficial results can be attributed to digestive and absorption capabilities, and to the essential amino acid content of the protein. Proteins that are rapidly digested and absorbed are seen to contribute to the metabolic advantages conferred by consuming diets higher in protein. Their findings highlight the importance of dairy products, though vegetable protein such as found in beans and other legumes, and nuts would also meet their criteria.
Protein Has a Tremendous Influence on Metabolism
The FDA says adults need 50 grams of protein everyday as part of a 2000 calorie intake. This translates into 200 calories from protein, or 10%. But this amount is just enough to sustain body structure, and it ignores the protein requirements for preserving muscle during exercise.
Increasing quality protein intake beyond the FDA’s basic amount is beneficial to muscle function, and it facilitates weight loss through calorie burning, according to Byron Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist and long-time natural health advocate.
For him, protein tops the list of nutrients that influence metabolic rate and aid in achievement and sustaining weight loss. In addition, a higher level of protein provides big benefits to overall health that include a boost in immunity, improved use of antioxidants, the ability to raise levels of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol), and enhanced insulin function. Each of these benefits contributes to the body being able to achieve and maintain ideal weight.
Protein is a major component of organs, glands and skin too. It’s present in all bodily fluids except urine and bile. Protein forms the basis for the body to sustain and regenerate itself, and it is critical for the growth and development of children, adolescents and women during pregnancy and after delivery.
“Protein is like 2X4s and plywood showing up at you liver’s jobsite,” Richards says of the fact that the liver is where fat is burned. He also notes that protein kicks metabolism into gear, and eating a higher protein breakfast can supercharge metabolism by as much as 30% for as up to 12 hours.
He is in agreement with the US Army report on the importance of yogurt and cheese as daily staples, also a feature of the Mediterranean diet.
Increasing protein does not require eating more meat. Want to build a better body fast? Eating two eggs for breakfast has been shown to boost weight loss by 65%, compared to the same amount of calories from high glycemic carbohydrates such as a bagel! And don’t forget saturated fats. They produce energy and feelings of satisfaction, which help allow you to stop eating. Saturated fats are used as energy, not stored as fat.
Richards advocates eating a diet containing 30% of calories as protein, with another 30% low glycemic carbohydrates, and 40% from fats. If you eat 2000 calories a day, this would mean 600 of them should come from protein.