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Do high protein diets cause weight loss?


Do High Protein Diets Cause Weight Loss?

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

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Adding extra protein to your meals may be the answer to successful weight loss

Low carb diets have fallen off the radar screen but interest in pumping up dietary protein is robust. Awareness of protein as a weight loss aid is due to the emerging research on its hunger-satisfying properties. Emerging science has shown that protein may be able to satisfy hunger better than either fats or carbohydrates. Eating a diet rich in low fat or lean protein may be the answer to help you eat fewer calories and lose weight by keeping your hand out of the cookie jar.

Studies on protein

Scientists at Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute have shown that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is most effective at reducing hunger and promoting weight loss, at least in the short term.

In the July 2008 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers concluded that a 15 percent increase in dietary protein (or a caloric ratio of 30 percent protein, 20 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate), with a constant carbohydrate intake, can result in clinically significant weight loss. Participants of the study ate 441 fewer calories when they followed the high protein diet, reported greater satisfaction, less hunger and lost weight on the low fat diet.

Another study, reported in the Journal of Nutrition, showed a high protein diet along with exercise enhanced weight and fat loss.

Eating a higher protein diet at mealtime and snacks can help you better control your appetite and weight according to the scientific literature. Add in some dietary fiber and some healthy fats for even more appetite satisfaction.

What is a high protein diet?

The government's Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends a wide range of protein intake from 10 to 35 percent of total calories for normal, healthy adults. For example, if you are on an 1,800 calorie diet, you could safely consume anywhere from 45 grams to 218 grams of protein per day.

Eating as much as 35 percent of calories might be difficult for most Americans who probably eat closer to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein which is 56 grams a day for men and 46 grams a day for women.

Researchers suggest aiming for around 120 grams of protein a day for weight loss benefits. To be on the safe side, check with your doctor before adding large amounts of protein to your diet.

The Best Protein Sources

If you want to increase the protein in your diet, try to include a lean or low source at every meal and snack. Protein usually comes with fat so be careful to choose protein sources that are as low in fat as possible from sources like soy, low fat dairy, eggs and lean meats, fish and poultry.

And keep in mind, you should also be eating healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, omega-3 rich fish and avocados. To be effective, weight loss diets need to include regular physical activity and contain foods that can be incorporated into your overall lifestyle.

Here are ten tips to power up the protein in your diet:

  • Drink cafe au lait made with strong coffee and skim milk
  • Eat a hard boiled egg with a few crackers for a snack
  • Make oatmeal or farina with milk
  • Snack on an apple with low fat cheese or peanut butter
  • Munch on edamame beans
  • Choose cuts of meat with the term 'loin' for the leanest meat
  • Enjoy yogurt with fruit and nuts for breakfast or a snack
  • Go vegetarian once a week with high fiber legumes
  • Add beans, nuts or seeds to your salads to pump up the protein
  • Try some soy products like tofu that takes on the flavors of any dish

Use this USDA table to help you work more protein into your diet:

Food Protein grams
1 ounce meat, fish, poultry 7
1 large egg 6
8 ounces milk 8
8 ounces low-fat yogurt 12
8 ounces soy milk 10
3 ounces tofu, firm 13
1 ounce cheese 7
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese 14
1/2 cup cooked kidney beans 7
1/2 cup lentils 9
1 ounce nuts 7
2 tablespoons peanut butter 8
1/2 cup vegetables 2
1 slice whole grain bread 2
1/2 cup of most grains/pastas 2

Bottom line, enjoying a diet higher in protein can help dieters stay on track without being sabotaged by gnawing hunger. Eating more protein, preferably spread out throughout the day, can help you manage hunger and keep your hand out of the cookie jar.


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 73:1073-8

Dietary Protein and Exercise Have Additive Effects on Body Composition during Weight Loss in Adult Women, by Donald K. Layman, Ellen Evans, Jamie I. Baum, Jennifer Seyler, Donna J. Erickson and Richard A. Boileau