High-Protein Diet for Weight Loss
Some people turn to higher-protein diets to lose weight. That's because some researchers suggest that higher-protein diets help people better control their appetites and calorie intake.
Diets with 30% protein are now being considered "reasonable" and the term "high protein diet" is now reserved for diets with over 50% protein.
Diets higher in protein and moderate in carbs -- along with regular exercise -- are often thought by experts to reduce blood fats. It also helps maintain lean tissue while burning fat for fuel. And this happens without dieters being sidetracked with constant hunger.
Researchers don't understand exactly how protein works to reduce appetite. They think that it may be because a protein causes the brain to receive lower levels of appetite-stimulating hormones. Fewer insulin spikes lead to less fluctuation of sugar levels -- and therefore fewer cravings. It may also be due to eating fewer carbs or the specific protein's effect on hunger hormones and brain chemistry.
What the Studies Show
More research is needed before experts can make sweeping recommendations that people boost the protein in their diets, according to the American Dietetic Association.
But some new research hints that protein may be able to satisfy hunger better than either fats or carbohydrates.
For example, in a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people were put on a diet in which:
- Fat was reduced to 20% of calories
- Protein was increased to 30% of calories
- Carbs made up 50% of diet
People on that diet reported that they:
- Were more satisfied
- Less hungry
- Lost weight
Another study in the Journal of Nutrition combined a high-protein diet with exercise. People in that study had:
- Enhanced weight loss
- Improved blood fat levels
How Much Protein Do You Need?
You need protein at all stages of life. It's the major component of all cells, including muscle and bone. It's needed for:
- Immunity to fight off infections and protect the body
The Institute of Health's Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations allow for a wide range of protein intake. The range is anywhere from 10% to 35% of total calories for normal, healthy adults.
For example, on an 1,800-calorie diet, you could safely eat anywhere from 45 grams (10% of calories) to 218 grams (35% of calories) of protein per day.
But the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is:
- Men: 56 grams a day
- Women: 46 grams a day
Most Americans have no problem getting this much, but would struggle to take in enough protein to make up 35% of their calories.
Is it possible to eat too much protein? There are no dangers associated with higher intakes of protein -- unless you have kidney or liver disease.
To get the potential weight loss benefit, experts advise aiming for around 120 grams of protein a day. If you want to increase your protein intake, do it slowly over the course of a week.
To be on the safe side, check with your doctor before adding large amounts of protein to your diet.