Protein is a very important part of Atkins, and it plays a key role in your weight loss. When you combine it with healthy dietary fat and fiber from vegetables, it makes it easier to decrease your carbohydrate intake without feeling hungry. Protein also protects lean muscle mass, so you lose fat, and it moderates your blood sugar, which helps control your appetite for several hours. Think of it this way: You could enjoy a spinach salad with sliced tomatoes, and you might feel hungry a lot sooner than if you top your spinach salad with a serving of grilled salmon drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and sprinkled with an ounce of feta cheese. Suddenly you have a delicious and satisfying meal that will keep your appetite in check and your metabolism humming along.
To be clear, Atkins is not a high-protein diet. I suggest eating 4 to 6 ounces (cooked weight) of protein at each meal. If you’re a petite woman and you’re not very active, you may be satisfied with 4 ounces of protein. If you’re an active guy, 6 ounces should do the trick, and a very big guy may even want 8 ounces. On an average day, your protein intake will range between 12 and 18 ounces (cooked weight) a day. But don’t worry. I don’t expect you to weigh your food or count your calories. You can easily eyeball your protein portions using these guidelines:
4 ounces meat, poultry, tofu, etc. = Smartphone
6 ounces meat, poultry, tofu, etc. = Hockey puck
8 ounces meat, poultry, tofu, etc. = Slim paperback book
3 ounces fish = Checkbook
1 ounce hard cheese = Four dice or the size of an individually wrapped slice
The Truth About Red Meat
Red meat is a very popular (and delicious) protein source, although it has been vilified in the past, due to its casual association with a higher incidence of heart disease and diabetes. Such a sweeping judgment, however, ignores a significant difference between distinct subtypes of saturated fatty acids (SFAs). Foods like red meat, butter, cheese, poultry, eggs, pork and fish are primarily composed of palmitic and stearic SFAs, which have virtually no effect on “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, i.e., it is considered “neutral”. While studies to date have found no association with the consumption of fresh meats, there have been positive trends in risk when consuming cured and blackened meat, so it is best to eat fresh meats and limit processed meats. And when you consume saturated fat on Atkins, where your body is burning primarily fat for fuel, published research has shown that the level of saturated fat in the blood does not increase.
Picking Your Protein
For a full list of protein sources, click here:
And here are some guidelines for picking your protein:
I recommend selecting organically raised, free-range meat, poultry and eggs whenever possible. Not only are they more flavorful, they’re also more healthful, because they don’t contain harmful hormones including growth hormone, estrogens, and antibiotics. Follow these additional guidelines when picking your protein:
Eggs: Free-range eggs are about 20 times higher in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. You can also get omega-3-enriched eggs.
Cold cuts and hot dogs: Read your labels. Less expensive brands may be full of added sugars and other hidden carbohydrates. Processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, salami, olive loaf and the like usually contain nitrates and nitrites. Whenever possible, choose nitrite- and nitrate-free deli meats. For a delicious (and budget-friendly) alternative, roast a whole ham, roast beef or turkey breast and slice and freeze portions that you can defrost as you need.
Bacon, sausages and more: Most sausages, bacon and aged hams also contain nitrates and nitrites. Once again, read your labels and look for preservative-free brands. Just remember that what you do 90% of the time really counts. If you can’t find nitrate-free meats, just make sure you don’t eat them on a daily basis and remember that fresh is always best.