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Protein: Keeping It Simple

April 18, 2011

Protein is a crucial component of Atkins. When combined with healthy dietary fat, it makes it easier to cut your carbohydrate intake without feeling like you’re missing anything. Let me emphasize that Atkins is not considered a high-protein diet, but an optimal protein diet. While the RDA recommendation for protein is .36 gram per pound of body weight for adults a day, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s just as much as a large chicken breast and a handful of nuts. But keep in mind that the RDA reflects the minimum, not the optimal amount, the average healthy person needs. Many other factors come into play when it comes to protein intake, including age, gender, activity level and body composition. Top that with the fact that research indicates adults may benefit from higher amounts of protein, especially when you’re losing weight.

The Power of Protein

If you’ve been doing Atkins for a while, you probably know why protein is crucial to your weight-loss success, but we’re going to do a quick review. Protein has a variety of benefits that will help you lose weight while on Atkins. It helps keep you fuller for longer; for example, think of how hungry you’d be after eating a serving of steamed asparagus, if that’s all you ate. Add some sliced, grilled chicken breast and an ounce of crumbled feta cheese, and you have a delicious, Atkins-friendly meal that will keep your hunger at bay until your next scheduled meal. Have you noticed your cravings for salty snacks or chocolate decreasing once you started adding protein to your meals and snacks? This is because protein helps stabilize your blood sugar levels. Finally, consuming protein helps you burn more calories; in a nutshell, digesting and metabolizing protein burns twice the calories than when you eat carbohydrates. Here’s why:

  • Protein furnishes the raw materials your body needs to make muscles, organs, hair, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc.
  • Compared to carbohydrates, consuming protein has less of an effect on insulin (which drives fat storage), a greater effect on glucagon (which drives fat release) and a considerably greater increase in satiety and metabolic rate.
  • Eating protein boosts your metabolic rate—In fact, one study showed that healthy, young women experienced 100 percent higher thermogenesis (calorie burning) after eating protein meals—even two and a half hours later than when they ate a “conventional” high-carbohydrate meal

Protein—What the Experts are Saying

Lead researchers Thomas Halton and Frank Hu, from the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, published a study titled “The Effects of High-Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review”, in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition:

“In this study, we conducted a systematic review of randomized investigations on the effects of higher protein diets on dietary thermogenesis, satiety, body weight and fat loss. There is convincing evidence that a higher-protein intake increases thermogenesis and satiety compared to diets of lower-protein content. The weight of evidence also suggests that high-protein meals lead to a reduced subsequent energy intake. Some evidence suggests that diets higher in protein result in an increased weight loss and fat loss as compared to diets lower in protein.”

How Much Protein Do You Need?

It’s very simple, actually. Your protein needs on Atkins are based on your gender and your height. That’s all. If you refer to page 42 in The New Atkins For a New You, you will find a chart that shows the recommended protein ranges. And if you want, you can do the math for your own height and gender. But to simplify it even more, based on most heights and gender, it’s recommended that you consume 4 to 6 ounces of protein at each of your meals each day. If you are a tall male, you might want to go with 8 ounces of protein, but the 4- to 6-ounce range should work for the majority of folks. The ideal amount of protein should make you full after your meal (not uncomfortably stuffed, though), but hungry in time for your next scheduled meal. You shouldn’t have to change this amount as you move through the different phases of Atkins, unless you are at the high end of the range and having a difficult time losing weight. If that’s case, try decreasing your protein intake by an ounce or two.

How To “Eyeball” Your Protein

Calculating how much protein you eat is also simple. There’s no need to count calories or grams or weigh your food. Just use these visual comparisons, and soon you’ll find it’s quite easy to “eyeball” how much protein you need at each meal:

FOOD VISUAL

1 ounce meat, poultry, tofu, etc.Small matchbox/remote car key
3 ounces meat, poultry, tofu, etc.Deck of cards/cell phone
8 ounces meat, poultry, tofu, etc.Slim paperback book
3 ounces fishCheckbook
1 ounce hard cheeseFour dice

Share And Share Alike

I’d love to hear the tricks you use to “eyeball” your protein portions or how protein has helped you conquer your cravings or kept your hunger in check. Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like to hear about in the future.

Register with Atkins today for additional tips, low carb recipes, and ideas on how to overcome your weight loss plateau.

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