The moment something new catches on in the wellness world, I have a habit of overdoing it. When I first read about chlorophyll water, I went hard on the green stuff. When Hilary Duff mentioned she starts each morning with a shot of apple cider vinegar, I blew through bottles of Bragg. It sounds silly, but I’m not sure it’s any crazier than the massive jars of protein powder you might find taking over countertops. The main difference is that protein has long been a popular weight loss-related nutrient, but there’s more to the magic than simply driving up your intake.
Thankfully, EatingWell recently tapped nutrition experts to answer some of our most burning questions about the macronutrient. Titled “The Big Lie About Protein” in the magazine, the lie in question has more to do with what we tell ourselves about protein than any deception on behalf of the macronutrient.
Protein—an essential nutrient for repairing our bodies—has become so integrated into the fitness world that it’s easy to equate eating more of it with making a healthy choice, especially with popular diets like paleo placing such a premium on the macronutrient.
But can protein actually help you lose weight? Yes—as long as you’re choosing protein-rich foods and not simply adding protein (and calories) to your daily diet. This should actually be fairly easy. Proteins—which are better than their fellow macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates) at signaling to our brains that we’re full—help prevent overeating. Plus, our bodies actually burn calories breaking down proteins, so your metabolism gets a nice little boost in the process.
But according to the article, it’s rare for an adult diet to be deficient in protein, so is it possible to go overboard?
Not all proteins are created equal and not everyone benefits from eating more than our daily allowance.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight.
For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.
For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.
When honing in on protein-rich foods, it’s best to consider the whole package. Tofu, fatty fish, or plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, and soy come with far less saturated fat (which can lead to inflammation) than beef or pork. Of course, it’s best to consult a doctor if you’re looking to really drive up your intake, particularly because some people, such as those with advanced diabetes or kidney issues, should be careful not to eat too much.
And perhaps the most burning question of all: what role does protein play in getting fit? “Simply adding more protein to your diet and calling it a day won’t deliver the weight loss you’re looking for,” Deanna Pai writes for EatingWell. She recommends combining a high-protein diet with weight training to help retain muscle mass as you shed pounds.
Unless you’re some sort of Ron Swanson type, no one should be eating just protein. The macronutrient should be balanced with other nutrients, like healthy fats and fiber.
As with any diet, it’s important to settle on something you’ll stick with, to the point where it no longer really feels like a diet at all. Find proteins that come in a healthy “package” you love, whether that’s chicken, salmon, or even lentils, and master the art of making it taste fantastic. Hitting your daily protein goal should be a happy lifestyle choice, not a forever chore.