Take a look at some of the latest popular diet programs, and one thing is clear: people are looking for that “magic” solution. Whether it’s a specific ratio of carbs to protein to fat, a low-carb/high-protein plan or a special combination of “fat-burning foods”, it seems that everyone wants to believe that if they could just find that elusive formula, the pounds would suddenly fall off.
Of course, these types of plans are rarely anything more than weight-loss gimmicks, and truthfully, I’m glad; who wants to swear off entire food groups or count macronutrients at every meal for the rest of her life?
But that doesn’t mean that, calorie-for-calorie, all foods are created equal. Some nutrients can help you reach and maintain a healthier weight, and protein is probably the most overlooked of any of them. But before you start stocking up on protein powder and t-bone steaks, you should know how protein can make a difference in your body.
So, what’s the connection between protein and weight loss? Put simply, protein can help you feel fuller so you need fewer calories overall. Here’s why: protein is slower than other nutrients to leave your stomach, so it fills you up faster and keeps you full longer. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that protein is more satiating that carbohydrates or fat. That means replacing some of the low-protein foods in your diet with lean protein foods can help control your hunger throughout the day so you’re not reaching for a snack an hour after every meal.
Now, I’m not talking about trying out one of the wildly popular low-carb high-protein diets like the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet; I’m not talking about a diet at all. As a general rule, any diet that forbids certain foods or cuts out food groups is not only difficult to maintain long-term, it’s likely to deprive you of nutrients your body needs. All it takes is some minor adjustments to your typical meals and snacks in order to benefit from all protein has to offer.
A common recommendation is to take in between 0.5 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day (that means anywhere from 80 to 160 daily grams of protein for a 160-lb. person). Aim to spread your protein consumption out through the course of the day, adding protein foods to every meal and snack, in order to get the most out of the nutrient’s filling properties.
So what sorts of protein-rich foods should you reach for? Focus on lean protein foods; no matter how much protein you eat, weight-loss still comes down to burning more calories than you consume, so adding large portions of fatty beef to your diet in an attempt to up your protein intake isn’t going to get you the results you want. Instead, opt for protein-rich foods that have little or no trans fat and are high in other nutrients like fiber, unsaturated fat and vitamins. Some suggestions:
- Low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- Nut and seed butters
- White-meat poultry
- Tuna, salmon and other seafood
- Low-fat cheese, cottage cheese and milk
- Lean cuts of pork and beef
Personally, I can attest that increasing my protein intake really does keep me full longer, especially in the morning. I used to eat mostly fiber-rich foods like oatmeal, whole-wheat toast and fiber cereal for breakfast, and I was always hungry within an hour or two. Once I started experimenting with lean protein foods at breakfast like eggs, beans and turkey bacon, I was able to get through the entire morning without needing a snack.
Remember, even if you’re not trying to lose weight, protein is a critical nutrient for building muscle, so women who strength-train can benefit from adding protein-rich foods to their diet as well.
Have you noticed that protein-rich foods fill you up better? What are your favorite sources of protein?
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