Protein seems to be the nutrient du jour – the topic on everyone’s lips. But did you know that most of us eat more protein than we need to on a daily basis; so how can high protein foods actually benefit weight loss?
The key is to understand how to make the most out of your protein intake. A typical diet might be carbohydrate heavy at breakfast (cereals or toast) and lunch (bread) followed by a big whack of protein at dinner (a steak or big portion of bolognaise). However, eating such large portions of protein at one time can be wasteful, even though the protein will be broken down.
The way in which we control our protein intake is important, as your body will benefit more from moderating the amount you eat throughout the day, rather than all at once. By doing this, the advantages are threefold.
Firstly, protein is known as the most satiating nutrient compared with carbohydrate and fat. Satiation is your immediate reaction to the ingestion of food – the drive that causes you to stop eating. Including protein at each meal improves satiety – in other words, it keeps you feeling fuller for longer so you are less likely to feel hungry between meals.
Secondly, the body has to work harder to digest protein, which means your body uses up more calories than it would to digest carbs or fats.
Thirdly, studies show that more lean body tissue is retained by eating protein at each meal. This is an important part of weight loss as most diets mean that you lose body fat and lean tissue. But on the 5:2 diet, eating protein foods on your fast days means you will retain more lean tissue, which helps to boost your metabolic rate and aid fat loss.
So what does all this mean in practical terms?
Ditching a big bowl of porridge for a high protein yogurt mixed with a few spoonfuls of oat granola
Swap two slices of toast with marmalade for one slice of wholegrain toast topped with a poached egg
Swap a tuna sub roll for a tuna salad nicoise (cooked potatoes that have gone cold have fewer calories than when hot, as the starch turns into a type of fibre)
Swap a baked potato with baked beans for a baked sweet potato filled with cottage cheese
Swap a minestrone soup for a chicken and chickpea soup
If you do feel hungry between meals, whether on a fast day or a non-fast day, opt for high protein foods. These will help curb your appetite and won’t cause a big spike in your blood sugar, which can leave you feeling peckish. A high protein yogurt or a few handfuls of mixed nuts are a perfect choice.