Protein Foods for Weight Loss and Maintenance

Protein, a nutrient in food, is needed by the body for processes such as: growth and repair of cells; making enzymes and hormones; muscle function; transmitting nerve impulses; and protecting the immune system. Some of these terms may seem like science jargon but simply put, protein is an essential nutrient as it has several important functions in keeping us in good health. Some of the sources of protein foods include fish, seafood, chicken, red meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy, legumes and dairy foods.


Studies have found that a high protein (HP) breakfast keep people feeling alert and satiated (full) and is a great way to kick start the day. HP diets have also been used by individuals looking to lose some kilos for health purposes as it helps control appetite, reduces food cravings, increases the loss of body fat and reduces muscle loss. To simplify this, satiation (feeling of fullness), reduces the likeliness of continuous grazing/snacking which helps promote weight loss. Studies have found reductions in body fat in non-athletic overweight individuals and the preservation of lean body mass (not losing muscle mass) during weight loss in people above the age of 50.


A HP, low carbohydrate (LC) diet, utilises stored body fat as energy and reduces overall calorie intake hence promoting weight loss. Also, a HP, low fat (LF) diet reduces calorie intake thereby promoting weight loss. What this all means is that by consuming foods such as lean meat, skinless poultry, oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardine, eggs, unsalted nuts and nut pastes/spreads, legumes such as beans and lentils, soy such as firm tofu and low-fat unflavoured dairy products such as milk and yoghurt that do not contain added sugars and high amounts of total and saturated fat, the overall calorie of a meal is reduced. This assists with promoting weight loss. The methods used to prepare these protein foods also make a huge difference. Frying uses fat which adds calories and could be avoided by baking, grilling, boiling, steaming or poaching. Also, choosing leaner cuts of meat (no visible fat) and skinless chicken reduces the overall fat content of the meal.


Although greater satiety, weight loss, fat mass loss, and/or the preservation of lean mass are often observed with increased protein consumption (eating) in controlled feeding studies, the lack of dietary compliance with prescribed diets (not being able to keep up with the diet style) in adults makes it challenging to confirm a sustained protein effect over the long term. However, a high protein diet does have its benefits as described above.


The big question is what quantity of protein foods are considered high? 25-35g of protein foods per meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) i.e. ranging from 1.2 to 1.6g protein per kilogram of body weight per day helps manage hunger and muscle metabolism and promotes weight loss. It is also important to eat a variety of protein foods throughout the week. Always consult with an Accredited Practising Dietitian to discuss your protein requirements for healthy weight loss and practical ways to keep that weight off long term. It is not about body image; It is about health. You are beautiful/handsome the way you are; just ensure you are in good health. If that means losing a few kilos, do it the right way.