Defeat hunger with protein

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on February 20, 2013

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For me, the toughest part of caloric reduction is hunger. I simply can’t stand being hungry.

I can turn away from French fries or Cheez-its (mmmmmm) or ice cream; I have no problem eating salad instead of cheeseburgers. But experience hunger? Like when I’m dying for something and it’s 4 p.m. and I’ve only got 300 calories left for the whole day?

Hate it.

One of my standard bits of diet advice has always been “include protein with every meal and snack.” I recommend that because of the high satiety value of protein.

Satiety has to do with a food’s ability to fill you up, to satisfy, to stave off hunger. And of the three macronutrients—fat, carbohydrate, and protein—protein is the satiety king.

A study published in the journal Obesity further supports this notion. Interestingly, to me, it also looked at meal frequency—whether eating three meals or six small meals a day had an effect on appetite regulation. Nope. Choose whichever you prefer.

But getting more protein? That had a significant effect on the study subjects’ evening and late-night sense of fullness.

Not feeling hungry in the evening is major—as I can testify. Lots of women have told me that they do very well on a diet throughout the day. It’s when they’re home at night that they’re tempted to dive into the junk food.

OK, let’s look at the study, which was conducted by Dr. Heather Leidy of the University of Missouri. She worked with two groups of overweight men: half got 14 percent of their daily calories from protein; half consumed 25 percent of their calories as protein. Their total daily calories and percentage of calories from fat were the same.

But the higher-protein group reported greater satiety when evening rolled around.

Let’s translate that into practical details for a woman who’s cutting calories and eating 1,600 calories a day.

If she gets 14 percent of her calories from protein, that amounts to 224 calories—or 56 grams (one gram of protein has four calories). That’s actually more than a lot of women get because we tend to be notorious under-eaters of protein.

We eat bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner. And although there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates (I am a huge defender of carbs), protein calories have to be squeezed in somehow. Fats and carbs can be reduced as needed to make room for them.

If our hypothetical woman consumes 25 percent of calories in the form of protein, that’s 100 grams a day.

For many women that’s a lot, and it requires real dedication to eggs and egg whites, low-fat dairy products, fish, and meat. Also, it’s hard to get that much protein (except through tofu and dairy) if you’re a vegetarian.

But if you’re dieting for fat loss and feeling hungrier than you’d like, why not try a weeklong challenge in which you eat some source of high-quality protein with every meal and snack?

Shoot for 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories as protein, and take note of your hunger. How do you feel between meals? How about at night or mid-afternoon or whenever you’re usually most hungry?

It’s easy to track how many grams you’re consuming by 1) reading package labels and 2) looking up foods in the USDA Nutrient Database.

If you take up the challenge, I want to hear how you do.

Flickr photo by emkeller

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