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How a High-Protein Diet Plan Can Help You Lose Weight

Health + Wellness

By Franziska Spritzler

Protein is incredibly important for good health.


It's a nutrient that must be consumed every day to meet your body's needs.

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams per kilogram.

However, a lot of evidence supports a higher protein intake for weight loss and other health benefits.

This article takes a detailed look at protein's beneficial effects and provides guidance for achieving the best results on a high-protein diet.

What Is Protein and Why Is It Important?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients, along with carbs and fat.

In your body, it performs the following roles:

• Repair and maintenance: Protein is the main component of your muscles, bones, skin and hair. These tissues are continuously repaired and replaced with new protein.

• Hormones: Chemical messenger proteins allow cells and organs in your body to communicate with each other.

• Enzymes: Most enzymes are proteins, and the thousands of chemical reactions that take place throughout your body are driven by them.

• Transportation and storage: Some proteins help deliver important molecules where they're needed. For example, the protein hemoglobin carries oxygen to your body's cells.

Protein is made up of smaller units known as amino acids.

Of the 22 amino acids, 9 are considered "essential," meaning they must be consumed in food because your body can't make them.

Importantly, some foods provide better protein than others based on their amino acid profile.

Generally speaking, animal products are considered "complete protein" because they contain all the essential amino acids in the optimal amounts that your body needs. These include eggs, dairy, meat, fish and poultry.

Vegetable proteins don't provide adequate amounts of every essential amino acid but can be combined with other plant sources to make complete protein. Beans, legumes, grains, soy, nuts and seeds are examples of high-protein plant foods.

Although protein quality is important, the amount of protein you consume is key.

Many researchers believe that the current protein recommendations may be too low to stay truly healthy in the long term (1).

Summary: Protein serves a number of important functions in your body. It is made up of individual amino acids, including many that your body cannot create on its own.

Protein's Effects on Weight Loss

Research suggests that increasing your protein intake may have impressive effects on your appetite, metabolic rate, weight and body composition.

Appetite and Fullness

Eating more protein may help suppress your hunger and appetite for hours after eating.

Protein increases production of hormones like PYY and GLP-1, both of which help you feel full and satisfied. In addition, it helps reduce levels of ghrelin, also known as the "hunger hormone" (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

In a controlled study of 12 healthy women, the group that consumed a high-protein diet experienced higher GLP-1 levels, greater feelings of fullness and less hunger than the group that ate a lower-protein diet (6).

Due to these effects on appetite and fullness, a higher protein intake typically leads to a natural reduction in food intake.

In another study, when 19 healthy young adults were allowed to eat as much as they wanted on a diet consisting of 30 percent protein, they consumed an average of 441 fewer calories per day than when they followed a diet consisting of 10 percent protein (7).

Interestingly, another reason protein is so satisfying seems to be related to the significant increase in metabolic rate that occurs during its digestion (8).

Metabolic Rate

A higher protein intake may increase the number of calories you burn.

Protein digestion appears to boost metabolic rate by an impressive 20–35 percent, compared to a 5–15 percent increase for digesting carbs or fat (9).

In fact, several studies have found that when people eat diets high in protein, they end up burning more calories for several hours after eating (8, 10, 11, 12, 13).

In a study of 10 healthy young women, consuming a high-protein diet for one day was shown to increase metabolic rate after meals nearly twice as much as eating a high-carb diet for one day (13).

Weight Loss and Body Composition

Not surprisingly, protein's ability to suppress appetite, promote fullness and increase metabolism can help you lose weight.

Several high-quality studies have found that increasing protein intake promotes weight and fat loss (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).

In a six-month diet study including 65 overweight and obese women, the high-protein group lost an average of 43 percent more fat than the high-carb group. What's more, 35 percent of women in the high-protein group lost at least 22 pounds (10 kg) (16).

Typically, when you reduce your calorie intake, your metabolism slows down. This is partly due to muscle loss.

However, research suggests that a higher protein intake can help protect against muscle loss and keep your metabolic rate up (15, 17, 19).

In one large review of 24 studies that included more than 1,000 people, high-protein diets were found to be more effective than standard-protein diets for losing weight, preserving muscle mass and preventing metabolic slowdown during weight loss (15).

Importantly, standard or high-protein diets can be effective for everyone.

But interestingly, one European study concluded that based on different gene types, high-protein diets would be especially effective for weight loss and maintenance in 67 percent of the population (14).

Summary: The ability of high-protein diets to decrease hunger, increase feelings of fullness, boost metabolic rate and protect muscle makes them effective for losing weight and improving body composition.

Other Beneficial Effects of Protein

In addition to its favorable effects on weight, protein may help improve health in several other ways:

• Increase muscle mass: Studies have shown a higher protein intake can increase muscle size and strength when combined with resistance training (20, 21).

• Reduce muscle loss during aging: Many people lose muscle as they age. One study found that adding a daily protein shake helped protect muscle health in healthy older men and those with age-related muscle loss (22, 23, 24).

• Strengthen bones: Higher protein intake may promote bone health. In one study, older women with the highest intake of animal protein experienced a whopping 69 percent reduced risk of hip fracture (25, 26, 27, 28).

• Improve wound healing: Studies have shown that high-protein diets can enhance the healing of wounds related to surgery or injury, including bedsores (29, 30, 31).

Summary: Research suggests a high protein intake can help build muscle, protect against bone and muscle loss during aging and improve wound healing.

How Much Protein Should You Eat Every Day?

The optimal amount of protein to consume per day is somewhat controversial.

Based on the DRI of 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams per kilogram, a 150-pound (68-kg) person would need about 54 grams per day.

While this may be enough to prevent outright protein deficiency, many experts believe this is too low for optimal health, including maintaining muscle mass (1, 32).

In fact, studies have shown that older adults, in particular, require more protein than the DRI, concluding that 0.6 grams of protein per pound or 1.3 grams per kilogram, may help prevent age-related muscle loss (33, 34).

Furthermore, diets providing up to double the DRI at 0.75 grams of protein per pound or 1.6 grams per kilogram, have been found to boost weight and fat loss, improve body composition and protect muscle during weight loss (1, 17, 18, 19, 35).

However, increasing your protein intake beyond this amount doesn't seem to provide additional benefits.

One study showed men who consumed 0.75 grams of protein per pound or 1.6 grams per kilogram, lost slightly more fat and had similar gains in muscle, compared to the group that consumed 1.1 grams per pound or 2.4 grams per kilogram (18).

A high-protein diet for weight loss and overall health should provide about 0.6–0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 1.2–1.6 grams per kilogram, and 20–30 percent of your calories per day.

For the 150-pound (68-kg) person, this provides a broad range of about 82–110 grams of protein daily, depending on calorie intake.

Moreover, it's important to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day, rather than consuming most of it at one meal. This allows your body to use protein most efficiently (32).

Summary: Daily intake of 0.6–0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight or 1.2–1.6 grams per kilogram, may promote fat loss and protect against the loss of muscle mass during weight loss and aging.

How to Follow a High-Protein Diet

A high-protein diet is easy to follow and can be customized according to your own food preferences and health-related goals.

For instance, you may want to follow a low-carb, high-protein diet to keep your blood sugar under control.

If you avoid milk products, you can follow a dairy-free diet that is rich in protein.

Even a vegetarian diet can be high in protein if it includes eggs or dairy and plenty of legumes and other plant proteins.

Here are a few basic guidelines for following a high-protein diet:

• Keep a food diary: Start a food diary using an app or website that provides protein values for thousands of foods and allows you to set your own calorie and macronutrient goals.

• Calculate protein needs: To calculate your protein needs, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.6–0.75 grams or your weight in kilograms by 1.2–1.6 grams.

• Eat at least 25–30 grams of protein at meals: Research has shown that consuming a minimum of 25 grams of protein at meals may promote weight loss, muscle maintenance and better overall health (35).

• Include both animal and plant proteins in your diet: Eating a combination of both types helps make your diet more nutritious overall.

• Choose high-quality protein sources: Focus on fresh meats, eggs, dairy and other proteins, rather than processed meats like bacon and lunch meats.

• Consume well-balanced meals: Balance high-protein foods with vegetables, fruits and other plant foods at every meal.

Lastly, this list of 20 delicious high-protein foods can help get you started.

Summary: Calculating your protein needs, tracking your intake in a food diary and planning well-balanced meals will help you get the best results on a high-protein diet.

Sample High-Protein Meal Plan

The sample below provides about 100 grams of protein per day. However, you can adjust the portions to meet your needs.

Monday

• Breakfast: 3 eggs, 1 slice whole grain toast with 1 tablespoon almond butter and a pear.

• Lunch: Fresh Avocado and Cottage Cheese Salad and an orange.

• Dinner: 6 ounces (170 g) steak, sweet potato and grilled zucchini.

Tuesday

• Breakfast: Smoothie made with 1 scoop protein powder, 1 cup coconut milk and strawberries.

• Lunch: 4 ounces (114 g) canned salmon, mixed greens, olive oil and vinegar and an apple.

• Dinner: 4 ounces (114 g) grilled chicken with quinoa and Brussels sprouts.

Wednesday

• Breakfast: Oatmeal and one cup plain Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup chopped pecans.

• Lunch: 4 ounces (114 g) chicken mixed with avocado and red bell pepper and a peach.

• Dinner: All Meat Veggie Chili and brown rice.

Thursday

• Breakfast: Spanish omelet made with 3 eggs, 1 ounce cheese, chili peppers, black olives and salsa and an orange.

• Lunch: Leftover All Meat Veggie Chili and brown rice.

• Dinner: 4 ounces (114 g) halibut, lentils and broccoli.

Friday

• Breakfast: One cup cottage cheese with 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, diced apples and cinnamon.

• Lunch: 4 ounces (114 g) canned salmon mixed with healthy mayo on sprouted grain bread and carrot sticks.

• Dinner: Chicken Meatballs with Marinara Sauce, spaghetti squash and raspberries.

Saturday

• Breakfast: Frittata made with 3 eggs, 1 ounce cheese and 1/2 cup diced potatoes.

• Lunch: Leftover Chicken Meatballs with Marinara Sauce and spaghetti squash with an apple.

• Dinner: 3 ounces (85 g) shrimp fajitas with grilled onions and bell peppers, guacamole, 1 cup black beans on a corn tortilla.

Sunday

• Breakfast: Protein Pumpkin Pancakes topped with 1/4 cup chopped pecans.

• Lunch: One cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1/4 cup chopped mixed nuts and pineapple.

• Dinner: 6 ounces (170 g) grilled salmon, potatoes and sautéed spinach.

Summary: Meals on a high-protein diet should include a moderate to large serving of protein balanced with healthy carb and fat sources.

Potential Adverse Effects of High-Protein Diets

High-protein diets are safe and healthy for most people.

Contrary to popular belief, higher protein intake doesn't cause kidney problems in people with normal kidney function (36, 37).

What's more, a study found that when overweight people with diabetes and early-stage kidney disease consumed a weight loss diet consisting of 30 percent protein for 12 months, their kidney function didn't worsen (38).

On the other hand, people who already have moderate to advanced kidney disease typically need to reduce their protein intake in order to preserve remaining kidney function (39, 40).

High-protein diets may also promote kidney stones in susceptible people. One study found this was mainly true for high amounts of animal protein, rather than vegetable protein (41, 42).

In addition, people with liver disease or other serious health conditions should check with their doctor before beginning a high-protein diet.

Summary: High-protein diets are safe and healthy for most people, but they may cause problems in individuals with certain diseases or health conditions.

The Bottom Line

Protein is a unique and important nutrient.

A higher protein intake is linked to beneficial effects on appetite, weight, body composition, aging and overall health.

To reap maximum benefits from a high-protein diet, spread your protein intake throughout the day, choose high-quality sources and balance your intake with healthy fats and carbs.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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