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The Benefits of Protein

Beef up your knowledge of protein and good dietary sources.
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The (Short-Term) Case for High Protein Diets

While no one knows the effect of eating a high-protein diet over the long term, the diet appears to be safe and effective for up to six months.

Frank Hu, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, asked a student to review published studies on high-protein diets and try to answer these four important questions:

  • Do high protein diets increase fat burning in the body?

  • Do they increase satiety (the sense of being "full" or "satisfied" after a meal)?

  • Do they decrease subsequent energy (calorie) intake by the body?

  • Do they lead to weight loss?

For the most part, says Hu, the answers are "yes." Protein can be converted by the body into glucose for energy, but it takes twice as much effort as converting carbohydrates or fats into glucose. The extra effort translates into fewer calories available, Hu said at a recent symposium on the science of obesityobesity.

When it comes to feeling full, the clinical studies consistently showed that high-protein diets increase satiety and decrease hunger compared with high-fat or high-carbohydrate diets. In addition, most, but not all of the studies reviewed showed that most people on high-protein diets took in about 10% less energy (roughly 200 calories) per day, which could account for at least some of the weight loss seen with this type of diet.

"There is some evidence that high-protein diets induce great fat loss," Hu told the symposium audience. On average, high-protein diets produced an average weight loss that was about 4.5 lbs greater than that achieved on other diets after six months.

"Most of the studies show results for up to six months, but after six months they begin to lose effectiveness, either because people do not adhere to this diet very well in the long term, or because they get used to this diet biologically," Hu tells WebMD. "So in the long term the high-protein diets tend to lose their ability to maintain the weight."

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