The body needs both macro and micro-nutrients to function properly. Macro-nutrients are the main building blocks and consist of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Micro-nutrients are the vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Calories in the diet come from macro-nutrients. The amount of calories that each one provides varies: Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, Protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Another caloric source is alcohol which provides 7 calories for gram, but this is not needed by the body.
High protein diets are still viewed as a healthy way to lose weight, but the truth is that the long-term health effects are still unknown. Too much fat and cholesterol is generally consumed on these diets and raises the risk for heart disease. Too little fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are consumed as well and leads to a lack of dietary fiber. The truth is that eating too few carbohydrates leads to the buildup of ketones, partially broken down fats, in the blood. This causes the body to produce high levels of uric acid and urea in the blood. These are toxic byproducts of protein breakdown and metabolism. The body then has to pump lots of water into the kidneys to help the body flush out these toxins. So, in truth, high protein/low carbohydrates have a dangerous diuretic effect on the body and can cause a loss of essential nutrients that the body needs, especially calcium.
Protein is essential to the body for growth, tissue repair, immune function, preserving lean muscle mass, and the production of various enzymes and hormones. Protein is found in meats, meat substitutes, cheese, milk, nuts, legumes, and vegetables. Unfortunately, the higher protein content in meats also means that you will be consuming saturated fats so do so in moderation.
Most Americans eat well above the amount of protein that their body needs, and as indicated above, their diets also tend to be higher in saturated fats. In reality, the body does not need near the amount of protein that is being consumed and choosing healthy protein choices will help in losing weight.
Protein is a fantastic tool in a weight loss journey over the other two macro-nutrients mostly due to the signal that it sends to the brain. Protein sends a signal to the brain that suppresses hunger, which causes people to eat less food which results in fewer calories being consumed. Protein also has a thermogenic effect on the body which raises metabolism. Protein requires more energy to be digested than do other foods, so during the process of digestion more calories are being burned. Protein also helps the body protect lean muscle mass, and the amount of muscle mass in the body determines the resting metabolic rate and overall metabolism in the body.
The amount of protein that the body needs varies depending on the source, and is typically still a very large, vague range which indicates it varies on the individual. The amount of protein needed by the body depends on the amount of lean body mass and not fat, so using the body’s ideal weight is a great way to figure out the amount of protein grams to consume. The body needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To calculate multiply 0.36 by the ideal weight of the body. This will be your optimum daily protein requirement. Note that infants, children, and pregnant/nursing women require more.
Remember to reach for low-fat, high-protein foods and snacks to help you in your weight loss journey. These foods offer essential nutrients to the body while suppressing appetite and raising metabolism. Both key to losing weight successfully.
“Macro-nutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat”. McKinley Health Center http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/macronutrients.htm>
Gilbert, Monique N. “High Protein Diets – Are You Losing More Than Weight?” Women’s Health Information http://www.fwhc.org/health/high-protein-diet.htm>
“Weight Loss and Nutrition Myths: How Much Do You Really Know”. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases