The Key Nutrient for Your Weight Loss Diet

The Key Nutrient for Your Weight Loss Diet

If you’re eating to lose weight or maximize your performance at the gym, there’s no nutrient that gets more attention than protein.

And for good reason.

A few recent studies have highlighted protein’s unique ability to boost satiety — or to make us feel fuller longer, which can be essential whether you want to shed a few pounds, or just maintain your energy through a long work day.

One new meta-analysis reviewed five small studies that compared satiety after a high-protein meal (via yogurt, omelets, milk or soy) versus after medium- or low-protein meals.

Investigator Richard Mattes, Ph.D., of Purdue University told MedPageToday that his review, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was the first to assess fullness after eating protein.

“These analyses indicate that higher protein preloads increase fullness ratings more than lower protein preloads,” he said, writing in the paper, “Greater fullness could contribute to improved quality of life by abating unpleasant appetitive sensations, and protein-mediated augmentation of fullness may also translate to lower energy intake. If this holds across a diet and over time, it may aid in the loss or maintenance of body weight.”

Additional research is needed on vegetable vs. animal protein, and whether the same holds true for protein shakes and supplements, researchers cautioned.

How Much Protein to Eat

steak kabobs healthy dinner nutrient

Photo Credit: Jamie Hamel-Smith

Now that you know protein can help you feel full, the next question is: How much do I need?

That answer varies wildly among health and nutrition experts, and it largely depends on your goals, activity levels and body weight. It also depends on your age: We naturally lose muscle mass as we grow older, which is why some seniors might benefit from a particular focus on protein.

A general rule, according to nutritionist Layren Slayton (via “50 grams if you’re not very active [which is in line with federal nutrition recommendations]; 75 grams if you’re moderately active, and 100 or more to put on muscle.”

Regardless of your total number, most experts agree it’s best to spread your grams throughout the day, starting with 20 grams or so at breakfast. Some say the best reason to do this is protein absorption, or the idea that your body cannot use more than 20 or 30 grams of protein at a time. Although this idea has largely been debunked, you’ll get the biggest satiety benefits by spacing out protein doses.

It’s also a myth that you can’t get protein on a vegan or plant-based diet. Vegan superstar endurance athlete Rich Roll told some of his favorite sources, including lentils, black beans, hemp seeds, chia seeds, mung beans, almonds, spinach and broccoli, as well as spirulina, or blue-green algae.

And of course, there are always meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as minimally processed soy (though you should check with your doctor before dramatically increasing your soy intake).

TELL US: How important is protein to your daily diet?

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