Diets can leave you feeling low in energy, miserable and craving food. But shift your focus from cutting calories to eating more protein and you may find that you lose weight without going hungry. Here are five reasons why eating more protein can help you drop the pounds.
See also: Six things stopping you from losing stubborn belly fat
1. Protein curbs your appetite
Eating protein slows your digestion, making you feel more satisfied and less likely to snack.
One study found that people automatically ate less when protein made up 30% of their total calorie intake. In some cases, they ate 441 fewer calories per day. Why? Protein increases levels of satiety hormones, while reducing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Eating protein for breakfast has also been shown to curb cravings later in the day. Research shows that obese women who ate eggs for breakfast, rather than a carb-dense food like bagels, ate less for the rest of the day and reported fewer cravings.
2. It helps prevent carb sugar-spikes
You should aim to eat some protein with every meal. That's because eating protein with carbohydrate-rich foods slows down the rate at which sugar enters your bloodstream – helping to prevent the usual blood-sugar spikes from carbs and prevent future cravings.
3. Eating protein increases your metabolism
The body uses energy to digest food – which is known as the "thermic effect of food" (TEF). Protein has a higher TEF compared to most other foods, which means you burn more calories digesting protein than carbs or fat.
Due to this and other factors, eating more protein can help boost your metabolism. In fact, people who follow a high-protein diet can burn around 80-100 extra calories a day.
4. Helps your body burn fat
Your body needs either protein or carbohydrate to effectively burn fat as energy. When you start to lose weight, you're likely to lose some muscle too – but increase your protein intake and you will help to preserve lean muscle, while also burning fat.
5. Promote muscle repair and growth
If you want a strong and lean physique, make sure you eat plenty of protein after intense exercise. Having a high-protein snack after strength training will help your muscles to repair and grow. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn, even while resting.
Here are some of the best protein-rich foods to add to your diet...
Eggs are packed with protein, amino acids and healthy fats – and all for around 72 calories per large egg.
Tuna is a good source protein, and is low in calories and fat. Just opt for tuna canned in water, not oil. Once drained, a can of tuna tinned in water contains 120 calories, 28g of protein, and less than 1g of fat. Other fish, such as sardines, haddock and trout, are also good protein sources.
Chicken, turkey and lean pork all contain high amounts of protein. One chicken breast contains around 125 calories and 26g of protein. Try a chicken stir fry with lots of onions, peppers, mushrooms and carrots for a filling, low-calorie meal.
Chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans are packed with fibre and protein. If you're watching your sugar intake, chickpeas are a good choice as they have the lowest GI of all beans. One drained 400g can of chickpeas contains 306 calories and 17g of protein.
Low-fat cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein per cup. Other dairy products, including milk and yoghurt also contain good amounts of protein.
Dried pumpkin seeds contain 10g of protein per quarter cup, and are also high in energy-boosting magnesium.
How much protein should you eat?
The total amount of protein you should eat will depend on your age, sex, and lifestyle. As a general guide, most experts recommend that the average man or woman (eg someone with a desk job who exercises a few times a week) should eat around one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. If you weigh 60 kilos, then you would eat 60 grams per day. Some nutritionists recommend eating higher amounts for weight loss, eg 25 grams with each meal, plus high-protein snacks.