Protein for weight loss: Fact or fiction?

The role of protein in the diet, especially for weight loss, has become a growing area of interest in recent years. Kilojoule for kilojoule, protein requires more energy than fat or carbohydrate to process and store in the body. It is therefore no surprise that many diets place a high emphasis on the importance of protein for weight loss. And according to a new study, protein also has another benefit.

While previously there has been a lack of large studies confirming the idea that protein-rich foods help in shedding excess kilos, the new studyconcluded that protein does, in fact, leave you feeling fuller for longer.

Richard Mattes, director of Purdue University’s Ingestive Behaviour Research Centre, explains that ‘a good deal of evidence suggests that protein activates satiety (fullness) hormone release and so should be strongly tied with fullness ratings.’

But, just how much protein is needed to feel full? According to study co-author Heather Leidy, the answer is still unclear. However, a moderate increase in protein intake may be a good first step for people trying to lose weight.

Researchers do warn however, that while protein may help you feel fuller for longer, it is not a magic fix for weight loss. As Mattes points out, ‘feelings like hunger and fullness are not the only factors that influence kilojoule intake. …We often eat for other reasons.’

In addition, Erin Keane, a nutritionist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, cautions that while this information may be useful to encourage additional studies on the role of protein and how it relates to kilojoule intake and weight, we cannot conclude that more protein means more weight loss. Keane further adds ‘the study does not provide insight into whether or not increased fullness actually leads to decreased overall intake in a given day.’

According to Angelo White, a nutritionist at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, the message to take home is in line with the advice that dietitians currently provide; ‘the exact amount (of protein you should consume) will vary, but ideally consume a variety of types of protein, both plant and animal-based, distributed throughout the day. This will not only combat hunger, it will provide the body with the amino acids it needs for things like muscle health, immunity and hormone production.’

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics