It may seem counterintuitive, but the answer is the 65 year old, according to Donald K. Layman, Professor Emeritus of Nutrition at the University of Illinois. “They likely need fewer calories, but need more high-quality, nutrient –dense protein (along with exercise and specific resistance training) to prevent muscle wasting.” In fact, people need 30 grams of protein in one sitting to stimulate muscle building, says Layman.
Especially as we age beyond 40, our ability to utilize protein to prevent muscle wasting decreases. Americans tend to eat almost all of their protein in one meal: dinner. Since protein balance only lasts about three hours after ingestion, it is important to eat enough protein throughout the day to sustain the balance. Negative protein balance results in a loss of lean body mass, which slows our metabolism and may contribute to weight gain and its associated medical conditions.
There are growing bodies of scientific evidence suggesting that a high protein diet may serve as a valuable tool in the fight against obesity. In the latest study of patients following moderately or high protein diets, published in the Journal of Nutrition in March 2009, weight loss results were similar in moderately high protein diets compared to the relatively high carbohydrate USDA Food Guide Pyramid diet over 12 months. However, the high protein dieters lost significantly more body fat and had better blood lipid profiles than the higher carbohydrate Food Guide Pyramid dieters.
During weight loss, we generally break down lean muscle and fat equally, but in a high protein diet we can lose more fat – up to 80% – and preserve lean muscle tissue. And the more lean muscle we have, the higher the metabolism. New research also suggests that there is an inverse relationship between protein intake and abdominal obesity.
Protein can benefit weight loss in a number of other ways. Protein diets make you feel fuller and satisfied for longer periods of time. One typically eats 200-400 kcals less per day and maintains more control to self-regulate their intake. It takes more energy to metabolize protein compared to carbohydrates or fat, but more importantly, it helps to build and maintain muscle, increasing metabolism.
So take a look at your diet. Where could you add lean protein in order to improve your protein intake? At Greenlite Medicine we recommend egg whites, low fat cheese, low fat Greek-style yogurt or a low carb protein powder shake instead of cereal to our weight-loss patients. For lunch, try grilled chicken breast and a chopped hard-boiled egg over mixed greens instead of a sandwich. It only requires some small changes to result in big losses!
Written by Sooji Rugh, MD – GreenLite Physician