Smart diet to lose weight: strategically pair proteins

 13 Apr 2016 - 14:56

Smart diet to lose weight: strategically pair proteins
Strategically pairing proteins: vegetable protein from a potato and animal protein from a dairy topping. (file photo / Andrea Warnecke / dpa.)


Where does your protein come from and what do you eat it with? That could provide key clues for a successful diet, German nutritionists say.

By Sarah Lena Grahn

When it comes to losing weight, more and more people are ditching carbs and bolstering their diets with protein. An essential nutritional component, protein is said to help keep you healthy, slim and full for longer periods of time. 

But how important is protein to a well-rounded diet and how much should you be eating?

Nicknamed "building blocks," proteins form the basic structure of the entire body. "They are critical for muscles and bones, organs, many hormones, blood and the antibodies of the immune system," said Isabelle Keller of the German Nutritional Society.

The science behind how and why proteins provide a faster feeling of fullness compared to other nutrients is still being investigated.   

For Keller, one thing is certain: "Proteins are essential for the body," she said. 

Aline Emanuel, a nutritionist, thinks we should be "paying more attention to protein." Not only the quantity but also the quality of protein we eat.

In industrialized countries, protein intake is, on average,  significantly higher than the recommended amounts, Keller says. "Our diets are extremely saturated with proteins."

Since it is easy for most people to meet and exceed their daily protein requirement, the question then becomes: how much protein is too much? 

The upper limit for daily protein consumption is two grams for every kilogram of body weight. This translates to an average of 120 grams for women and 140 grams for men. 

Low-fat dairy products, eggs, lean meats and fish are very good sources of protein. "Eating a combination of protein-rich, plant-based foods, such as grains and legumes, is another option," said Keller, who lectures on health prevention.

This is a great option for vegetarians. 

Emanuel also suggests eating animal and vegetable proteins together.

For those who are interested in eating healthy and losing weight, special attention needs to be paid to how proteins are combined with other nutrients, said Andreas Pfeiffer at the German Institute of Nutrition Research.

"Vegetable proteins are better than animal proteins, which often contain a lot of fat."

Animal protein and "bad fats," or saturated fatty acids, often go hand-in hand, hiding in sausage or cheese.

Pfeiffer also recommends avoiding protein combinations with starchy foods, like corn or white bread. High in carbohydrates, starchy foods spike blood sugar levels, causing increased insulin production. This is like putting the brakes on fat burning, she said.

Whole grains are the better choice. While they still cause blood sugar levels to rise, they do so more slowly and not sugar does not go as high. "The key to managing your weight is figuring out what to combine with protein," Pfeiffer explained.

Ultimately, whether a protein-rich diet is healthier than a low-fat or low-carb diet is irrelevant to Keller. The key to a healthy life-style is a balanced diet that is varied with appropriate portions of nutritious and low-calorie foods.

Plus, lots of physical activity, she said. 

"People who don't want to gain weight need to balance their calories, so that the amount of calories they eat equals the amount they expend during the day," she said.