Will Protein Help You Shed Pounds?


The Caveman Diet says to eat more protein to maintain your weight and better your health. So do Atkins, South Beach and countless other regimes. Then there’s Dr. Dean Ornish, who wants us to lose weight and regain our health by eating less protein. Who’s right?

First, let’s start with what everyone agrees on: Protein is the major structural component of all the cells in the body. It builds muscles, bones and skin and helps to maintain them. Protein is an essential nutritional component. We get proteins in our diet from meat, dairy products, nuts and certain grains and beans. We need to eat protein every day because our bodies don’t store it the way they store fats or carbohydrates. So far, so good. From here on, things get a bit less black and white.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per day for every kilogram of their body weight, or about 64 grams for a 160 pound adult. But the IOM goes on to set “acceptable” protein amounts for adults of anywhere from 10 percent to 35 percent of their calories per day. That means that at 4 calories per gram of protein, a healthy adult on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet may safely consume anywhere from 45 grams (10 percent of calories) to 218 grams (35 percent of calories) of protein per day. The IOM concludes that there is no clear evidence that protein intake on the high end of that range will increase renal stones, osteoporosis, cancer or cardiovascular disease.

One nutritionist, Dr. Donald Layman, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, supports high protein consumption and emphasizes that “lifelong health is related to protein.” He believes that adults need more protein as they get older because their bodies become less efficient at using protein to rejuvenate and repair themselves. For people with diabetes, however, the American Diabetes Association recommends limiting protein intake to about 10 percent of their calories.

Then there’s the question of weight loss. One of Layman’s studies, published in the Journal of Nutrition, compared the weight loss efforts of two groups, both following diet plans that were equal in calories. One group followed a diet moderately high in protein (30 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat). The other group followed a diet based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food guide pyramid (15 percent protein, 55 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent fat). After 12 months, the people on the higher-protein diet had lost 38 percent more body fat than those following the lower-protein diet.

Increasing protein in your diet may have health benefits beyond weight loss. In another study, people with high blood pressure showed lower blood pressure readings after they replaced some of the carbs in their diet with protein.

If you’re considering increasing the protein in your diet, here are some healthy guidelines for doing it:

•Choose from a variety of protein-rich foods, including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.

•Replace high-fat protein sources (certain cheeses, for example) with choices that are lower in fat and calories (a hummus made with chickpeas and sesame paste).

•Steer clear of salty processed meats (deli meats, hot dogs, bacon) and eat red meat, such as pork, beef, and lamb, sparingly.

Please consult your doctor or a nutritionist to create a healthy eating plan for your needs.

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