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Patients often ask me what they should eat to lose weight. I point to healthy protein in instead of empty carbohydrates or unhealthy fats. Because of this, let me share in this article why dietary protein is vital for optimal health and healthy weight loss. Let’s also look at protein food sources and protein supplements for optimal health.
Why a high protein diet?
If you were to ask me for dietary advice, I’d begin by asking you for a diet diary: you are to write down everything you put into your mouth for an entire week. Then my strategy begins with maximizing fresh produce (50% raw food total) and dietary protein.
Why maximize protein? It’s pretty simple: to A But for just practical reasons, this will stop food cravings for unhealthy sugars and foods that turn into sugar quickly, and lower your desire for unhealthy fats and other nutritionally “dead” foods. Remember the produce part of this equation too—which contain the micronutrients vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals known to prevent and reverse disease.
Basically, protein provides a great source of energy for your cells. It builds muscle which burns fat. And, while your cells can’t use protein directly for energy needs, it is a great energy source through a process call gluconeogenesis (“new formation of glucose”). Protein uses up twice as much energy in its conversion to glucose compared to carbohydrates or fats that are converted into glucose. This extra effort means fewer calories from foods that will be converted to storage fat.
What’s more, clinical studies consistently show that high protein foods increase satiety (feeling full) and decrease your hunger compared with high carbohydrate foods. As a result, you’ll reduce your calorie intake by about 10 percent and burn more calories while feeding your body’s energy needs—resulting in weight loss.
Next you should be aware that protein is made up of amino acids—the building blocks of protein found in all your body cells such as blood, hair, nails, skin and connective tissues. It is used to build and repair body tissues. It makes up vitamins, enzymes and hormones. Amino acids make up your genetic code we call DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
A word of caution with higher protein diets comes with kidney disease or low vitamin D levels (have your doctor check a 25-hydroxy Vitamin D level to find out). The reasons for these cautions are as follows:
- Low vitamin D: high protein diets will increase urinary losses of calcium—unless you have adequate levels of vitamin D (which maintains urinary losses to a minimum and triggers calcium absorption from foods via your intestinal wall).
- Kidney disease: when your kidney cannot filter your blood well, waste products of protein metabolism build up in your blood, while phosphorus gets too high and calcium too low.
Foods are high in protein that taste good
Here’s a great list of good protein food sources and their protein content:
- Milk: 8 grams per 1 cup
- Tofu: 12 grams per 3 oz
- Edamame: 8 grams per ½ cup
- 20+ grams per 1 cup
- Peanut butter: 8 grams per 2 Tbsp
- Mixed nuts: 27 grams per cup
Whole grains (beware of gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and triticale)
- Buckwheat: 23 grams per 1 cup
- Quinoa: 23 grams per 1 cup
Meats (per 3 ounce serving)
- Turkey breast: 24 grams
- Fish: 21-25 grams
- Chicken: 23 grams
- Beef/steak: 23 grams
- Ground beef (95% lean): 18 grams
- Eggs: 6 g per 1 large egg
- Greek yogurt: 23 grams protein, 7 grams milk sugars per 1 cup
- Cottage cheese: 14 grams protein per ½ cup
- Swiss cheese: 8 grams protein per 1 ounce
- Milk 2% milkfat: 6 grams protein per 1 cup
Here is where you can really maximize protein. Not only can you put nuts and yogurt in your smoothie along with fresh and frozen fruits, but you can also add protein powder. The whey protein powder I love has 25 grams of protein per scoop. Let me share more about protein powders.
Most Americans get only about 15 percent of their diet as protein. I recommend 40 percent as protein (along with 30 percent healthy fats and 30 percent complex carbohydrates). The easiest way to get this higher protein content is by supplementing with protein powder… in a smoothie or drink. Below are the different types you should know about. All have proven health benefits across the board.
Whey protein power: from cow’s milk; least expensive; gluten-free; comes as branched chain amino acid protein isolates and is a “complete protein” containing the 9 essential amino acids (ones you must get from food): histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Casein protein powder: from cow’s milk: more expensive; gluten-free; digests slower so that it has a slower release of essential amino acids and proteins which can be better at bedtime.
Pea protein powder: not from dairy; gluten-free; lacks one semi-essential amino acid (cysteine).
Soy protein powder: “complete protein” and contains isoflavones known to reduce cancer and heart disease risk but could reduce testosterone in men.
Hemp protein powder: considered a superfood due to high content of omega-3 and omega-6 oil; is all plant-based and highly digestible.
Brown rice protein powder: gluten-free; low in lysine.
Protein powder blend: hemp, pea, rice, quinoa and other ingredients that are gluten-free and dairy-free.
Once again, the challenge to a great diet is finding enough tasty healthy protein food/supplement sources. Add this 40 percent of your meals from protein to mostly raw food from fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes…and you have the making of a great nutrition plan!
To feeling great,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options