Make a high-protein diet work to achieve the leanest body and best working brain by eating smart. Simply eating huge quantities of protein is NOT the solution for optimal health, weight loss, and brain function. To get sustainable results that make you feel better with increased protein intake, you need a multifaceted strategy that includes high-quality clean protein, a LOT of fiber, the right carbohydrates, and the smartest fats.
A series of new studies have shown that high-protein diets will produce significant fat loss while preserving lean mass. For example, a study in the journal Nutrition compared the effect of a low-carb, high-protein diet with a low-calorie diet on body composition and found that the high-protein diet produced a 12 percent drop in body weight compared to the low-calorie diet that resulted in a 5 percent drop. The high-protein diet also led to better cardiovascular and insulin health markers than the low-calorie diet.
A large-scale analysis of various weight loss diets in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found similar results, with high-protein diets producing an average weight loss of 1.21 kg more than lower protein diets that were energy restricted. Lean mass is better preserved when a protein threshold of about 1.5 g per kg of body weight is reached, whereas there is significant muscle loss with lower calorie diets that have less protein.
Although the evidence is convincing that high-protein eating can produce dramatic weight loss and support health, there is a lot of backlash to such diets, which may be partly due to the fact that there are key dietary factors that are often overlooked. To get the best results, you need to ensure you are getting sufficient fiber. According to a report in the Journal of Nutrition, less than 3 percent of Americans reach the government recommendation of 25 grams of fiber a day, and if you are eating a high-protein diet, you need more than that amount—one study found optimal fat loss and an improved quality of life in women who ate 35 grams of fiber with a high-protein diet.
To meet fiber intake needs, which will help you avoid gastrointestinal problems, eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and take supplemental fiber. Many people incorrectly think that if they eat one serving of vegetable at every meal, they will get adequate fiber. Rather, you want to shoot for nine servings of fiber-rich veggies a day, and if you’re not getting that, you may want to supplement with fiber.
The second thing to focus on is getting adequate “smart” fats from omega-3s (from fish oil and wild meat) and other fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Eating good fats can support cellular health and repair, while aiding insulin sensitivity. If you also manage your insulin response by eating low-glycemic foods that are slowly digested, you will sustain your blood sugar at an even level and avoid spikes in insulin that will shift the body into a fat-storing state—which brings us to the third element of the best high-protein dietary strategy.
Eating a high-protein diet doesn’t mean you should eliminate carbohydrates. Whole food carbs like green leafy vegetables, berries, cherries, grapes, kiwis, and other fruits are packed with antioxidants that will help neutralize free radicals that are produced when you eat protein. A study from 2007 found that eating a mixed macronutrient meal naturally lowers the blood antioxidant status, which can lead to inflammation. Simply including high-antioxidant foods with every meal can prevent this. A related benefit of foods that are antioxidant-rich is that most are digested slowly, making them the best choice for insulin health.
Santesso, N., Aki, E., et al. Effects of Higher- Versus Lower-Protein Diets on Health Outcomes. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012. 66, 780-788.
Hussain, T., Mathew, T., et al. Effect of Low-Calorie Versus Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet in Type 2 Diabetes. Nutrition. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.
Prior, R., Gu, L., et al. Plasma Antioxidant Capacity Changes Following a Meal as a Measure of the Ability of a Food to Alter In Vivo Antioxidant Status. Journal of the American College Nutrition. 2007. 26(2), 170-181.