We’re here to clear up a few misconceptions about protein. Many people who count calories tend to eschew protein-rich foods when trying to lose weight. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture almost one-third of women between the ages of 20 and 40 do not get their recommended daily allowance of protein, and the statistics are only slightly better for men. This is one of the major reasons why so many struggle to achieve their weight management goals. Protein intake is instrumental in losing weight and, just as importantly, keeping that weight off. Let’s “break down” why.
1. All calories are not created equal
Calorie counting is a poor means of engineering a weight management program. To use an extreme example, what would you expect to happen if you got 2,000 calories from processed, high-sugar foods like cereal, soda and candy? Now imagine getting that same 2,000 calories from a diet high in healthy fats and proteins. These experiments have been done (our heart goes out to the individuals who had to eat the sugar-based diet) and, not surprisingly, individuals with the high sugar based diet put on copious amounts of weight. The others typically lose or maintain weight.
2. High protein foods burn more calories
One (perhaps less well-known) facet of protein is that it takes our body a great deal of effort to metabolize and break down. This has multiple implications. The simplest is that the effort our body makes to digest the food we intake is, in fact, a process that burns calories. Digesting protein burns more calories than digesting carbohydrates or fats.
3. high protein foods leave us feeling full
Protein provides us with increased, lengthened feelings of fullness, as a result of it taking longer to metabolize. We burn more calories and end up eating less, without feeling hungry.
4. Protein protects your muscle and burns the fat
Protein is broken down into amino acids, which are used to maintain the muscle in our body. Without protein, our body will go into a catabolic state where it breaks down muscle for energy. In a study published in The FASEB Journal, thirty-nine individuals were provided one of two weight loss diets. The only difference
between the two diets was that half the subjects had twice as much protein as the others. And the result? While all the subjects lost similar amounts of weight, the subjects who ate twice as much protein lost the most fat. Said another way, protein helps to ensure that the weight you are losing is fat, not muscle.
5. a pound of muscle uses much more energy than a pound of fat
Your body burns fuel, or calories, while at rest. Every organ in your body requires this fuel to survive and function, including the muscle and fat in your body. There is a lot of debate on the subject of how many calories a pound of muscle burns at rest, with some experts suggesting as low as 1.5 calories an hour and others suggesting as high as 6.5 calories. Conversely, each pound of fat burns a fraction of that (as low as 10%). Despite the wide range there is little debate that even a small amount of muscle can add to our daily (passive) calorie burning.
Thinking about it intuitively, if you’ve ever wondered why people always say it’s much easier to maintain weight than change it, this provides us a meaningful clue. The more muscle we have on our bodies, the higher our resting metabolic rate.
So what did we learn?
In closing, there is a great deal of debate about how much protein is ideal for weight loss, but much of the scientific community seems in agreement that the recommended daily allowances (what the government mandates companies put on labels) is woefully low. Those allowances were created for the average, sedentary individual. So if you’re trying to lose weight use this handy calculation: Your weight (in pounds) x 0.62 = the grams of protein you should be consuming. So for a 120 pound woman 74 grams of protein would be ideal (not the 50 grams in the recommended daily allowance).
We hope this cleared up some of the common misunderstandings about protein and has perhaps emboldened you to have that extra piece of salmon tonight at dinner.
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