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Protein is your key to a slimmer body — if you do it right…
Everyone and their auntie is using protein to shed kilos, but most dieters don’t actually know the facts when they shove the carbs aside in favour of this slimming tool. Like, how much is too much, and what are the best sources? What if you’re a vegetarian? Did you even know there are actually two different types of protein? Read on for your complete guide…
1. You’re probably not getting enough…
You’d think that if the low-carb diet craze taught us anything, it’s the importance of protein. But even if you haven’t eaten a hamburger roll since the late Nineties, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting enough of what typically goes between the bread. Recently, the diet pendulum has swung in favour of counting kilojoules — an effective weight-loss tool, but not one that always prioritises protein. “Many women perceive foods that are rich in protein as being high in kilojoules or fattening,” says dietician Dr Laura Kruskall. This isn’t the case, but die-hard counters know that most proteins will cost you a few more kilojoules than fruit and veggies.
What’s more, protein isn’t as portable as other food. The best sources — fish, meat, dairy, beans – aren’t as quick or convenient as most carbs, or even fruit and vegetables. “Traditional protein sources aren’t usually grab and go. And if they are, they’re often fried or unhealthy,” says nutrition expert Angela Ginn. According to secondary data analysis of dietary studies by the Medical Research Council, about 19 percent of adult women in SA have a protein intake below the recommended amount.
Since a growing number of nutritionists believe that the current dietary guidelines for this mighty macronutrient are way too low, some of us might be missing out. Consider this: a US study found that a diet in which roughly a quarter of the kilojoules (about 60 percent more than the recommended 10 to 15 percent) come from lean protein sources actually reduced blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and triglycerides better than a traditional higher-carb diet. Other research finds that diets rich in protein can help prevent obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.
2. Protein will make you lose fat, not muscle
High-protein food is harder to digest, metabolise and use, which means you burn more kilojoules processing it. It also takes longer to leave your stomach, so you feel full sooner — and for longer. The cumulative effect has obvious benefits for anyone watching their weight. In a study published in Nutrition Metabolism, dieters who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of their diet ate nearly 1 880 fewer kilojoules a day and lost about five kilograms over the 12-week study without employing any other dietary measures. (But note: most nutrition guidelines suggest 15 percent protein for your RDA.)
And if, like most successful dieters, you’re burning kilojoules as well as counting them, protein is doubly essential for making sure you lose fat, not muscle. Your body uses the amino acids in protein to build lean muscle, which not only makes you stronger and more toned but also fries kilojoules even when you’re not active. Ultimately, this keeps your metabolism humming along at high speed so you can burn off the occasional chocolate biscuit, no problem.
3. The exact amount of protein you need to lose weight
Experts advise consuming between 0.8 and 1.1g of protein per half a kilo of your body weight. That’s 112 to 154g a day for a 64kg woman. Stick to the high end if you’re very active and the low end if you’re trying to lose weight. If both apply, aim for an amount somewhere in the middle: around 130g. Remember, protein contains as many kilojoules per gram as carbs, so they count as much towards your total kilojoule intake. Get enough, but keep your protein intake within the recommendations as going overboard may put extra strain on your kidneys.
Even more important: aim to get at least 30 of those grams at breakfast, says nutrition expert Dr Donald Layman. (That’s roughly the amount you’ll get from two eggs and a cup of cottage cheese.) After fasting all night, your body is running on empty and may start drawing on muscle tissue for fuel if you don’t replenish its protein stores first thing in the morning. Plus, studies have found that protein-rich breakfasts can help regulate your appetite all day.
4. Not all protein is created equal
But not all proteins are created equal, says Kruskall. While nuts, whole-grains and some veggies do count, they don’t contain all nine of the amino acids your body needs to build lean muscle. Those that do — known as complete proteins — are typically found in animal products. Your best flat-tummy bets are skinless white chicken, seafood, low-fat dairy, pork tenderloin and lean beef. All of these have just one to three grams of fat per 210kJ serving.
Vegetarians need to be a little more creative. Pairing incomplete proteins — peanut butter on wholewheat bread, or brown rice and beans, for example — can substitute for complete ones. Or go for complete proteins such as tofu, buckwheat and quinoa. The beauty of protein is that with so many tasty options, getting your daily dose is a pleasure.
Looking for creative ways to include more protein in your diet? These 3 protein-packed breakfasts totally taste like dessert!