Dear Dr. Mo: I am currently on a weight loss diet – I am trying to make it a healthy one. I’ve heard lots about carbs and fat but what about protein?
Dear reader: Very often, while trying to lose some weight, people obsess around planning their carbs, counting calories, avoiding fats and forget about a very important part of every healthy diet – protein.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and they are not just an essential ingredient for a healthy weight loss, they are also essential for our bodies serving as building material for growth and repair and as a fuel source in times of need.
Without protein in your diet, you run a risk of overeating, which, coupled with eating fast is one of the leading causes of weight gain and obesity.
If you overeat on a high-fat, low-protein diet, weight gains may be slower to show but you will be gaining more fat and you will be losing more muscle down the road.The weight as such needs to be considered in a broader perspective, beyond just the BMI (Body Mass Index) or the number on the scale – it is what makes up your total weight that counts the most – whether it is fat or lean muscle; and without protein in your diet, you will be leaning towards more fat and less muscle.
Whether or not you are trying to lose weight, remember that 10 – 35 % of your daily food intake should be lean protein. For men, this comes up to about 56 grams of protein every day and for women, 46 grams to avoid deficiency. Athletes, pregnant women and children may require more, to satisfy their increased demands for building blocks.
A good source of protein is often a combination of various foods, never just one, because different foods are rich in different amino acids necessary for the body to function optimally.
Here are 5 recommendations of protein-rich foods, which can serve as a snack between your meals to help you from getting too hungry and overeat (because when you are really hungry, you’ll eat more than you should and need), or as an addition to a healthy breakfast to start your day.
Almonds and Walnuts – rich in monounsaturated fat (the good one) they help to lower levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and help manage weight. They are rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins and high in protein. They also pack a lot of calories, so be mindful of this fact and consume them in moderation – stick to maximum 100 grams per day.
Turkey – this bird’s meat is high in lean protein and low in calories; deli slices could be high in sodium though so to avoid it, you may wish to roast your own turkey for dinner and save the left overs for a snack the next day
Lentils – they pack a punch of fiber, protein and minerals with virtually no fat – a cup of lentils has 22 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and around 300 calories – a great bargain. Also, being neutral in their taste, they absorb the tastes and scents from any food you may cook with them so use this as a trick to be creative.
Unsalted seeds – sunflower or roasted pumpkin seeds come with lots of fiber, vitamins and carotenoids; they are rich in protein and they are a good source of potassium, manganese and iron. Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of Zink, which is important for prostate health.
Caution – these seeds are calorie dense so healthy snacking requires moderation.
Eggs – when taken in moderation (less than 6 whole eggs per week) the benefits outweigh the cholesterol risks – one egg contains as much as 6 grams of protein (with all 9 essential amino acids) and only 70 calories; it contains just 5 grams of fat out of which only 1.5 is saturated and the rest is the right kind of fat. They are good for the eyes, the brain and the heart. Eggs are best if hard boiled.
In addition to these protein-rich foods to complement your healthy weight loss diet, do not forget to eat a healthy breakfast every day. People who eat breakfast actually eat fewer calories during the day.
Our weight is a dynamic value, which could change and does change over time, sometimes to our dissatisfaction. To maintain a healthy weight in the long run, make sure you develop healthy eating habits and an exercise plan commensurate with your age and health rather than just a good weight loss strategy.
Yours in health,