It’s the Protein, Stupid

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The diet wars are still going strong. Eat this for weight loss. This superfood will make you healthy. This food will cause cancer. This will cleanse your gut. Nutrition is a complex and relatively new science, and most of what is promulgated is meant to sell product not make you healthy.

One thing is becoming clear, however. Maintaining a healthy weight, good muscles, and working hormones is about getting enough protein. That might seem like a no-brainer to many of you, but many more of you will blow it off. You likely think you get enough–there’s protein in this thing I’m eating, right? How much, do you suppose? Not enough, I’m sure.

Since ancient times, there have been outliers who shunned mainstream diets, but it’s only very recently in history that the mainstream diet itself became one that avoided protein and fat. Our ancestors knew that protein and fat were the valuable macronutrients, extended at the table by the poor or during shortages with low-protein vegetables and grains. If you’re ever beyond civilization and need to rely on your own strength to find food, you would be wise to seek protein at every opportunity.

But in 21st century America, we don’t do that. And we are fat and sick.

How Much Protein?

Restricting calories, starches, or grains will help you lose weight. But it’s not that simple. You must be sure to get enough protein or you’ll not lose as much, and you WILL gain it back — due both to how your hormones are functioning and hunger. Tired of the yo-yo? Focus on protein!!

How much? AT LEAST .8 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. A person who weighs 160 pounds (73 kilograms) should be eating at least 58 grams of protein a day.

However, if you increase your protein, you’ll find even better and longer lasting results. Diets with 1.2g of protein per kilogram of weight “resulted in improved BW [body weight] maintenance in overweight individuals after BW loss and was related to beneficial changes in body composition, substrate oxidation, and satiety.” For the 160 pound person, that means at least 88g of protein every day.

A few serving examples: 1 egg has 6g, 1/2c tempeh 15g, 3oz tuna 25g, 3oz ground beef 22g, 1/2c black beans 7g, 1/2c whole wheat flour 8g. So if you’re relying on whole wheat and beans, you might think that’s plenty, and if not you can just eat more, right? Here’s a comparison: you can eat 1 pound of ground beef and get all your protein for the day at 1500 calories. Or you can eat 6 cups of whole wheat flour and get all your protein at 2700 calories. This is why we call grain “empty”: it gives you many calories that do not feed your body nutrients, just units of energy you don’t use.

Chances are, if you are not focusing on protein and choosing sources with a high percent of protein versus their other content, you’re not getting enough.

“Based on the comparison of a number of reliable studies, we conclude that a NPD [normal protein diet] of 0.8 g · kg BW [body weight] −1 . d−1 is sufficient for BW management, whereas a HPD [high protein diet] of 1.2 g · kg BW−1 . d−1 is necessary for preservation of REE [resting energy expenditure, i.e. resting metabolic rate] and a stronger initial sparing effect of FFM [fat-free mass, i.e. lean body mass] and lowering of DBP [diastolic blood pressure].”

Read the whole study: http://m.jn.nutrition.org/content/143/5/591.long

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