Dealing with overweight. Part 10: The magic of proteins.

If there was such a thing as a miracle nutrient in our food, it would be protein.  Protein is what our DNA primarily uses to construct our body, to maintain it and to modify its form and functions according to the needs created by the lives we lead.  There are many other structural materials that comprise our body, but none is as miraculously constituted and potent as protein.  Earlier in these articles, I have stated how important are the various amino acids that make up the proteins of our body.  We need to be very mindful of the proteins in our foods if we are to maximize both the health of our body’s systems and design a way of eating that will give us the best chance to maintain an optimal weight.

What I have not mentioned yet in these articles is how potent proteins are in modulating our appetite.  This can be good or bad.  First the bad as demonstrated by a little history of the weight loss fads that have taken place here in the US.  Several decades ago, someone hit on the idea to formulate what came to be called “liquid protein diets” as a potent means of weight loss.  These liquid food replacements caught on in a big way.  You see, a very high protein content in our foods or drinks has a powerful appetite suppressing effect that is often accompanied by a feeling of comfort and well being.  Remember when I talked about the quality of the amino acid profiles of the proteins in our food?  This appetite suppression and accompanying positive mood is present even if the high protein content of our food is very poor quality proteins.  These liquid protein diets were made from very cheap, low quality proteins that can be quite detrimental if they are the only proteins in our diet.  Several dozen people died during the prolonged weight losses these “supplements” brought about (several dozen that were indentified, possibly many more).  It was not completely clear if the deaths were from the poor protein sources or the lack of other important nutrients in these concoctions, but the message is still the same.  Even a dietary regimen that makes weight loss easy and induces us to feel well (at least as we start it) can have bad health consequences.

Now the good news.  Increasing the protein content of our diet can be a very effective way to decrease our appetite and is quite healthy and safe if the overall food pattern is balanced and supportive of our needs.  I believe this is the primary reason the “Atkins Diet” has been helpful for quite a few people.  It is very high in protein.  The protein is primarily meat, so the protein quality is excellent.  I am not arguing for this particular diet since it has a number of important drawbacks.  It is effective, though, and it has almost all of the essential nutrients in plentiful amounts.

Incorporating a high protein intake in your diet will not be an option if you are vegetarian, but just about anyone else can use this strategy to one degree or another (Two notable exceptions: those with kidney disease or advanced liver disease).  I generally do not recommend a high fat plus high protein diet long term unless a physician is following the person’s cholesterol and lipids in their blood since high fat intakes are often conducive to atherosclerosis.  To avoid a lot of saturated fat in your food, this means that as you increase the protein in your diet, you must concentrate on low fat, protein rich foods.  Fish (if not fried), low fat cuts of beef and pork, poultry (also if not fried), egg whites and low fat cheeses are all good sources of high quality protein and low in fats.

If you choose this high protein approach, you will need to add other foods carefully.  Many vegetables are relatively low in carbohydrates and can be consumed liberally.  These low carb vegetables also tend to be very high in fiber, which is also very beneficial.  This leaves three more types of foods to consider: fruits, starchy vegetables and grains.  Here is how I incorporate this high protein strategy for most people.  You start with as much high protein (while low fat) foods that your taste buds will accept and your budget will allow.  As above, eat as much low starch, high fiber vegetables as you want (in general, the more the better).  Add some fruit as desired, but avoid fruit juice and don’t overdue it.  Keep breads and grains to a minimum, and try to stick with whole grains when you do eat them.  If this is enough for you, you can skip the high carb, starchy vegetables entirely.

As a rule of thumb, to simplify things, you could consider fruits, whole grains and starchy vegetables as interchangeable and expendible calorie sources.  Try to minimize them all if you are really struggling with your weight.  Which of the three you choose should be based both on what you find most satisfying and also what is least likely to tempt you to overeat.

What I have outlined for you here is a very practical long term food choice strategy that works well for a lot of people.  It includes all the essential nutrients in more than adequate quantities.  I believe if you consistently work toward it and adjust to it, it will become a very satisfying way to eat.  One more VERY important piece of advice: leaving yourself hungry is a bad strategy.  To make use this advice, though, you must be clear about the difference between hunger and craving.  When you are hungry, any good quality food will do.  When you are craving, only certain very specific foods will do.  A regimen that frequently leaves you hungry will usually be conducive to malnutrition and eventually cause your mood and sense of well being to deteriorate.  Eat healthy foods that are not conducive to making you overweight, and eat enough of them so that you are rarely very hungry.  And be very wary of eating when you are not hungry.

Many people will be able to control their weight by carefully applying what I have presented so far, if they will just stick with it and alow ti to become a way of life.  There will, however, be a fair number of those who will still not be successful.  If you are in the unsuccessful group, I believe you will fall into one of two categories.  Either you will have unconscious emotional drivers that are causing you to be overweight or you have an as yet undefined metabolic disorder of your appetite and/or metabolism.  The remainder of these articles will be discussing the management of the problems faced by these two categories of weight control problems.

As always, I will do my best to answer any questions these articles raise.  Just comment below.  Your feedback is also always welcome.

Chuck

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About Chuck Gebhardt

I am a physician specializing in internal medicine. I sub-specialize in nutritional medicine. I am very interested in all areas of healing research, not necessarily limited to traditional medicine topics.
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