It seems every month we hear about a new fad diet promising to help shed pounds and burn fat.
Though most come and go, some seem to have stuck, such as the high-protein Atkins or South Beach diet plans.
And there may be a reason: A high protein diet is key to weight loss.
Gone are the days when counting calories was enough. The quality - not just the quantity – of what you eat is of the utmost importance.
And while it may seem simple to focus on protein, it can be challenging to stay on track because protein-rich foods aren’t generally portable, such as meat, fish, cheese, eggs and dairy products.
They also don't tend to be as convenient as carbs or fresh fruits and veggies. And, they often need to be refrigerated.
But there are ways to pack in protein, even if you don’t have the time or the ability to pack a high protein lunch or prep a protein-packed breakfast every day.
The second you eat protein, it’s already working on burning fat.
A study in the Nutrition and Metabolism journal by Domonik Pesta and Varman Samuel explains that the “thermic effect” of food, also called diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), is a metabolic response to food. And DIT values are highest in proteins.
"Food intake results in a transient increase in energy expenditure attributable to the various steps of nutrient processing (i.e. digestion, absorption, transport, metabolism and storage of nutrients)," it notes.
Basically, high protein meals take more time for your body to process, thus using more energy.
The report concludes that "long-term effects of high-protein diets depend on the population studied as well as the exact composition of the diet but have generally been shown to include weight reduction and weight loss maintenance as well as beneficial effects on metabolic risk factors."
Though the study warns that there are some caveats to high protein diets "such as increased acid load to the kidneys or high fat content of animal proteins."
Of course, we know that to lose weight we must burn more calories than we consume.
Protein helps by not just boosting your metabolism but also reducing your appetite.
A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that studied 19 healthy adults found that satiety (the feeling of fullness) was increased with a high protein diet.
"The subjects were placed on an isocaloric high-protein diet consisting of 20% fat, 50% carbohydrate, and 30% protein. Daily caloric intake was fixed at the level that would result in a stable weight with the baseline diet, and subjects were instructed to eat all food provided," notes the report.
The test subjects ended up eating 441 less calories a day.
And high protein meals aren’t just about shedding pounds, they help stop you from gaining in the first place.
Another study - that included 148 people between 10 and 44 years old - found that slightly increasing protein intake from 15 per cent to 18 per cent lowered the amount of fat people regained by 50 per cent.
While protein can do amazing things for our bodies, we must choose carefully.
Protein-rich foods that come from animals, such as red meat and dairy products, tend to also come with a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol.
This can cause a variety of problems, including heart disease.
It’s important to incorporate healthier alternatives like poultry, fish, soy, tofu, beans or nuts into your high protein meals and snacks.
According to experts, the best protein intake is around 30 per cent of daily overall calories.
For a daily caloric intake of 2,000, that would amount to 150 grams per day.
If your calorie consumption is higher or lower than that, find your percentage by multiplying that number by 0.075.
BREAKFAST: Eggs are a great go-to for breakfast but if you don’t have time to scramble some eggs or make an omelette, consider a protein shake or smoothie instead. Stirring some protein powder or egg white into oatmeal is another quick way to sneak in extra protein. And bowls are the new plates for many today, with smoothie bowls and oatmeal bowls emerging as a new way to pack in protein.
LUNCH: Healthy protein lunch options are unlimited. Consider chicken or salmon over a salad, tossed with homemade dressing. Or if you don’t have chicken, a hard boiled egg can pack protein into a salad as well. If you’re not a salad person, protein bowls (also known as Buddha bowls or quinoa bowls) are becoming a popular item, which often begin with brown rice or quinoa with beans, veggies and yet more protein (such as chicken) added in.
DINNER: High protein meals at dinner time are easy. Proteins like chicken or fish are a good base. Pair that with brown rice or quinoa, and a side vegetable such as broccoli or carrots, and you’ve got a healthy, nutritious high protein meal. EatingWell.com offers a ton of ideas.
But of course, we all need some go-to portable protein ideas. Here are a few:
While high protein meals are the best way to go, quick supplements can help bridge the gap when you’re running short on time.
When you need help staying on track, turn to supplements.
There are many high protein products are on the market today that aim to make it easier for you to get the protein you need.
These include protein powders, pre-made nutritional shakes, and protein-enriched bars, such as Simply Protein or Clif bars.
And weight loss supplements are yet another way to help achieve your weight loss goals.
Alli and Xenical (Orlistat) Weight Loss Aids, to name just two.
But it’s important to remember that with any diet plan, nutrition is the foundation and protein is key.