Missing this key nutrient could cause weight gain. Times of India says 9 out of 10 Indians are not eating enough of it...
Nine out of ten Indians are not eating enough of this macronutrient. While there are other important things to focus on when trying to eat a healthy diet, like vitamins and minerals, the one thing missing from our food is: protein. And it’s not for men or weight-lifters. All men, all women, all children need protein. protein is essential. And, a lack of protein certainly could be contributing to weight gain.
But why is protein so important?
The Protein Leverage Hypothesis
The reason low protein can lead to weight gain can be explained by the Protein Leverage Hypothesis. The hypothesis states that humans are naturally driven to seek our protein from food sources every day because dietary protein is essential for human life. The body can create fat and carbohydrates on its own, but is completely reliant on food for protein.
The body recognizes whether the food you eat has enough protein to supply it for the day. If you have not eaten enough protein, the body will send signals to make you feel hungry so that you want to eat more, ideally to supply the body with more protein. So, if you are eating too many low-protein foods, your body will keep sending you signals to eat more food in the hope of getting more protein. This leads you to eat more calories, which leads to weight gain.
The Protein Leverage Hypothesis is supported by other research that indicates people who eat low protein diets consume significantly more calories throughout the day than people who eat more protein in their diets. This result aligns with the hypothesis that their bodies drove these people to eat more because they sensed that they had not eaten enough protein.
The Protein Problem in India
Some of you may be thinking about cost. It is true that high-protein foods are more expensive in India. But, low protein intake is also a problem for people from well-to-do families. So, the reason that protein is lacking cannot be entirely blamed on economic reasons. Regardless of socioeconomic status, protein is by far the most neglected macronutrient in a standard Indian diet.
One cause for low protein consumption is the traditions and culture surrounding food. Many people in India avoid non-vegetarian foods like eggs, meat, chicken, and fish for religious reasons or simply because of preference. Even people who do not identify as vegetarians tend to exclude these foods at least some days of the week. Some people even avoid vegetarian protein rich vegetarian foods like daal or lentils some days of the week. For various reasons, many people in India end up eating a seriously low amount of protein on many days of the month.
For whatever reason, protein-rich foods are not seen as “wholesome” in India. Meanwhile, foods like ghee, sugar, and milk are seen as the healthiest choices and ideal for providing energy. While there is nothing inherently wrong in these foods, eating too much of them can lead to excess weight, especially when they are eaten instead of protein-rich foods. This low-protein, high fat and sugar combination is the perfect storm for weight gain.
As discussed with the Protein Leverage Hypothesis, protein is crucial for weight loss because it reduces hunger and helps you feel more full. But, there are even more benefits to eating protein.
One of the biggest obstacles people face when losing weight is muscle loss. Oftentimes, it is hard for people to lose fat without losing muscle. Even though losing weight is good for health, losing too much muscle is harmful. This is especially true in India, where people already tend to have more body fat and less muscle mass than people from other countries. This higher proportion of body fat puts Indians at a higher risk for obesity related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and makes it easier to put on weight because fat burns less calories than muscle.
Given the disadvantage that the Indian populations already faces in this regard, it is especially important to eat sufficient amounts of protein during weight loss to avoid any further muscle loss. When people lose weight, they do typically lose some muscle mass. But, when eating a high-protein diet, the amount of muscle loss is significantly reduced. Plus, studies show that with higher protein intake, people lose less muscle and more weight overall. Incorporating protein into your diet is a win-win.
The power of protein goes beyond helping you lose weight. It can also help you keep weight off. There is nothing worse than working hard to lose weight, only to have it all come back. For most people, keeping weight off is harder than the initial weight loss itself. Retaining muscle mass throughout your weight loss is key to slowing down the process of weight regain. As previously explained, eating protein during weight loss will help you retain muscle mass, and more muscle mass will help you burn more calories throughout the day. It is important to keep this in mind throughout your weight loss process. Weight loss achieved by eating a high-protein diet is likely to be more beneficial and withstand the test of time than a diet lacking in protein.
Keeping the Balance
Eating sufficient protein is very important for weight loss, but it is important not to get carried away. It is common to think that when something is healthy, the more you eat, the better. But, there is such thing as too much protein. Eating excess protein over a long period of time can lead to kidney and liver problems, as digesting large amounts of protein can put too much stress on the organs.
Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar designates the “sweet spot” for protein consumption at around 70-110 grams of protein per day. The exact amount of protein you need depends on your body weight, but this is a good range to aim for. Be sure to eat a wide variety of high quality protein sources such as eggs, chicken, fish, milk, beans, and lentils. Despite popular belief, vegetarian and non-vegetarian sources of protein have similar effects on hunger and food intake. So, vegetarians can still eat adequate amounts of protein for weight loss and muscle conservation without having to eat non-vegetarian foods.
How to do it:
If you already eat lots of protein rich foods and still struggle to lose weight or keep it off, think about when in your day you eat these foods. You may not realize how important timing is to reap the maximum benefits from protein. Dr. Dhurandhar describes this strategic timing of eating your protein is the Protein Shield. The Protein Shield trick is to eat your high protein foods throughout the day, rather than at dinner. So, instead of eating protein with your dinner, focus on having protein with your breakfast or lunch. This way, you can actually use the proteins throughout the day rather than eating the protein and then going to sleep. Eating protein during the day keeps you fuller than if you are eating it at dinner, so you can eat fewer calories throughout the day.
When beginning the process of losing weight, all of the nuances can seem overwhelming.
But, by focusing on a few main principles, you will see that it really is simple. Adding more protein into your diet, or switching up the timing of your high protein meals to induce the Protein Shield, can make all the difference in your ability to lose weight and actually keep it off.