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Significance Of Protein Intake In Weight Loss
Obesity has increased at an unprecedented rate in the United States and the rest of the world. There are approximately 65% overweight people in the US and about 33% are clinically obese. This trend is also growing among children and teenagers. Because of the other health problems associated with excess body weight, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, obesity is perceived as an epidemic.
In recent years, there has been significant discussion about the effect 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. These marketing incentives seem to have created a misconception among the general public that any protein-rich food will help you lose weight. This article highlights the importance of protein nutrition for overall health and well-being along with its role in weight management.
A good protein intake is required for optimal health, as our muscles, which make up about 40-50% of the human body mass, are mainly composed of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for the human body. Amino acids supplied by dietary proteins are necessary for the synthesis of body proteins in muscles, organs, bones and skin, as well as for the synthesis of enzymes, certain hormones, antibodies and a number of specialized products. Some amino acids are essential for the proper functioning of the body and brain, such as tryptophan found in corn. In addition, proteins are essential as various specific proteins produced as a result of gene expression carry out all the general functioning of the body. That is, the genetic makeup of the human body consisting of DNA and its associated genes creates specific proteins that perform their individual functions. A deficiency of protein or one or more essential amino acids leads to stunted growth in children or loss of muscle mass in adults.
A diet high in protein has been linked to weight loss and weight maintenance in various recent studies. Protein keeps the body full for a longer time, the feeling of satiety. There is compelling evidence that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis (the process of burning fat to produce body heat) and satiety compared to lower protein diets. The weight of evidence also suggests that protein-rich meals lead to a reduction in subsequent energy expenditure. Some evidence also suggests that diets higher in protein result in weight loss and fat loss compared to diets lower in protein. (1).
Protein plays a key role in regulating food intake through satiety associated with diet-induced thermogenesis. Protein also plays a key role in regulating body weight through its effect on thermogenesis and body composition. A high percentage of energy from dietary protein limits (re)gaining body weight through its saturation and energy inefficiency related to changes in body composition. (2)
Recently, Dr. Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts published a review on the effects of high-protein diets on weight loss (1). Below are the highlights of this review:
o Although the authors of some fad diets have advocated increasing dietary protein for weight loss, only recently have studies begun to investigate the effects of high-protein diets on weight loss.
o There is convincing evidence that protein exerts an increased thermic effect when compared to fat and carbohydrates. The evidence is also strong that high-protein diets increase satiety when compared to lower-protein diets.
o Higher protein diets may facilitate weight loss when compared to a lower protein diet in the short term (within 6 months). But long-term data are limited.
o Exchanging protein for carbohydrates has been shown to improve blood lipids, and in epidemiological studies, higher protein diets have been associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
o Although the optimal amount and sources of protein cannot be determined at this time, the weight of evidence suggests that in dietary 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 the body’s 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 effect on satiety and thermogenesis. However, a careful selection of protein foods should be made, as high protein foods are also generally high in fat, for example red meat such as beef and pork. If the diet is to be modified to include high protein foods, the selection criteria should include plant protein food sources, such as soybeans, beans, legumes, as they are generally low in fat. Good sources of animal protein are fish and chicken, as 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 high protein diets on thermogenesis,
Satiety and weight loss: 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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