In recent decades, conventional wisdom has suggested eating a lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet for health and lose weight. The food pyramid above clearly emphasizes that carbs should be the bulk of your daily diet. On the flipside, there were the high protein, zero carb brigade who claimed that their way was the only way to successfully lose weight, such as Atkins and the Zone. These were often accompanied by higher fat, especially saturated fat.
I think the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, and as usual, moderation is the key. However, I do think there is quite a lot of positives to increasing the amount of protein in your diet. There is a lot of research out there that shows that high protein foods, especially lean meat and low-fat dairy, are a key factor in not only losing weight, but successfully maintaining a healthy weight. As part of having my Best Year this year, I have increased the amount of protein I am eating.
So firstly, what are some benefits to adding high quality protein to your diet?
- Protein is low in calories, but nutrient dense – protein and carbs have the same amount of calories per gram, but protein sources provides some very important nutrient sources that carbohydrate sources are often short of, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Replacing some of your carbs sources with protein sources will not significantly affect the calorie count, but will diversify the nutrients you are eating. For example, instead of a bowl of cereal for breakfast, create a breakfast parfait with some non-fat Greek yoghurt, half as much cereal as you would have had, and fruit. Yummy and filling!
- Weight loss – a major study found that diets that were made up of 25-30% of calories from protein, as opposed to 12-15% (fat was the same), lost more weight. In particular, they lost more fat, especially the highly dangerous abdominal fat.
- Keeps you satisfied – in general, high-quality protein sources keep you fuller for longer, due to the slower effect on blood sugar compared to carbs. This is even more the case if you are replacing highly processed carbs such as white bread, white rice, and sugary foods, which cause dramatic rises and falls in blood sugar levels. This usually results in cravings and hunger later in the day.
Secondly, what are good quality protein sources?
- Lean meats, including beef and pork
- Poultry (removing skin)
- Fish and shellfish
- Low fat dairy
- Legumes such as lentils, and beans
- Nuts and seeds (limit these to small amounts as these are high in fats)
- Eggs (the whites contain the protein, but no fat)
- Soy products such as tofu and tempeh
Lastly, how can you increase protein in your diet?
- The easiest way is to try and include some protein in every meal and snack.
- For example, add a poached egg to breakfast, some left over roast meat to your salad at lunch, and a tin of tuna to your mac and cheese at dinner.
- For snacks, add a small amount of protein such as a tub of yoghurt with some fruit, almond butter with apple slices, or hommous and veggies.