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Significance Of Protein Intake In Weight Loss
Obesity has increased at an unprecedented rate in the United States and around the world. There are about 65% of people who are overweight in the US and about 33% are clinically obese. This trend is also increasing among children and teenagers. Due to other health issues associated with being overweight, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, obesity is considered an epidemic.
In recent years, there has been significant discussion about the effects of high-protein foods on weight loss. The first person to suggest this correlation was Dr. Atkins through his Atkins diet program. This started a series of marketing campaigns by the food industry promoting their high protein foods. This marketing push seems to have led to the misconception among the general public that any high protein food will help with weight loss. This article highlights the importance of protein nutrition for general health and well-being along with its role in weight management.
Good protein intake is necessary for optimal health because our muscles, which make up about 40-50% of human body mass, are mostly made up of protein. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are therefore the building blocks for the human body. Amino acids supplied from dietary protein are required for the synthesis of body proteins in muscles, organs, bones and skin, and for the synthesis of enzymes, certain hormones, antibodies and various specialized products. Certain amino acids are essential for the proper functioning of the body and brain, such as tryptophan found in corn. In addition, proteins are important because the various specialized proteins produced as a result of gene expression carry out all the general functions of the body. That is, the genetic group of the human body consisting of DNA and the genes associated with it give rise to specific proteins that carry out their respective functions. A deficiency of protein or one or more essential amino acids causes reduced growth in children or loss of muscle mass in adults.
High protein diets have been linked to weight loss and weight maintenance in various recent studies. Protein makes the body full longer, feeling full. There is convincing evidence that higher protein intake increases thermogenesis (the process of burning fat to produce body heat) and satiety compared to diets with lower protein content. The weight of evidence also suggests that high-protein meals lead to subsequent reductions in energy intake. Some evidence also suggests that diets higher in protein result in weight gain and fat loss compared to diets lower in protein. (1).
Protein plays an important role in the regulation of food intake through satiety associated with diet-induced thermogenesis. Protein also plays an important role in the regulation of body weight through its effect on thermogenesis and body composition. A high percentage of energy from dietary protein limits weight gain through satiety and energy inefficiency associated with changes in body composition. (2)
Recently, Dr. Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts published a review on the effect of a high protein diet on weight loss (1). Here are the main points of this review:
o Although the authors of several fad diets have advocated increased dietary protein for weight loss, it was not until recently that studies began to investigate the effects of high protein diets on weight loss.
o Convincing evidence exists that protein provides an increased thermic effect when compared to fat and carbohydrates. Evidence is also convincing that higher protein diets increase satiety when compared to lower protein diets.
o A higher protein diet can facilitate weight loss when compared to a low protein diet in the short term (within 6 months). But long-term data is limited.
o The exchange of protein for carbohydrates has been shown to improve blood lipids, and in epidemiological studies, a higher protein diet has been associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
o Although the optimal amount and source of protein cannot be determined at this time, the weight of evidence suggests that in nutritional practice, it may be beneficial to partially replace refined carbohydrates with protein sources that are low in saturated fat.
In summary, a good protein diet is essential for body muscle mass and essential amino acids. In addition, high protein intake appears to have an effect on weight loss and weight maintenance due to its effects on satiety and thermogenesis. However, the selection of protein foods should be made carefully, because high protein foods are also generally high in fat, for example red meat such as beef and pork. If the diet needs to be modified to include high-protein foods, the selection criteria should include plant protein food sources, such as soy, beans, legumes, as they are generally low in fat. Good sources of animal protein are fish and poultry because they are generally low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
1. Halton H. and Hu F. (2004) Effects of a High Protein Diet on Thermogenesis,
Satiety and Weight: A Critical Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23(5):373-385.
2. Westerterp-Plantenga MS (2003) The importance of protein in food intake and body weight regulation. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. Vol. 6(6):635-8.
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