How can protein in my diet help me lose weight?

Caroline M. Apovian, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Protein is a key component to any weight loss plan because it's satiating and keeps you full, and it feeds your muscles. In this video, weight loss specialist Caroline Apovian, MD, discusses why eating protein is crucial for healthy weight loss.
Chris Embry
Most people that want to lose weight really want to lose body fat. Adequate protein intake is important when losing weight because encourages your body to keep the muscle that is already has and instead use your stored fat for fuel. If you are not eating enough protein, your body can start breaking down muscle for energy. This will lower your metabolism and make it even more difficult to lose additional weight. In order to coax your body into burning fat instead of muscle and to keep your metabolism elevated, it important to eat enough protein on a daily basis. Good protein sources include eggs, chicken, beef, and fish. Protein powder can also be a helpful supplement to your diet.
Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein holds an almost magical place in the weight loss world -- high-protein diets gained the public's attention years ago and have managed to maintain their popularity.

Research confirms that there is something uniquely hunger-quelling about protein. Don't get us wrong: fat and carbohydrates (especially certain types) help make a meal filling and satisfying. But a slew of studies show that protein's the most satiating of the three major macronutrients.

In a University of Washington/Oregon Health and Science study, people who switched from eating 15 percent of their total calories from protein to eating 30 percent of their calories from protein (and 20 percent from fat and 50 percent from carbs) spontaneously reduced their calorie intake by an average of 441 per day and lost, on average, 11 pounds, most of it body fat, in twelve weeks.
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Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Mainly because it helps keep your blood sugar stable. When your blood sugar is stable you crave fewer carbs. Carbs contribute to weight gain if you are eating too many of them especially if they are refined.
Pierre Dukan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Assimilating Proteins Burns Up a Lot of Calories - to understand this you need to familiarize yourself with the idea of the specific dynamic action (SDA) of foods. The SDA of a food represents the effort or energy that the body has to use to break down the food until it is reduced to its basic unit, which is the only form in which it can enter the bloodstream. To assimilate 100 calories of pure protein— egg whites, lean fish, or fat-free cottage cheese— the task is enormous. This is because protein is composed of an aggregate of very long chains of molecules whose basic links, amino acids, are connected to each other by a strong bond that requires a lot more work to be broken down. It takes 30 calories just to assimilate the proteins, leaving only 70 usable calories. Thus the SDA of proteins is 30 percent. Assimilating proteins makes the body work hard and is responsible for producing heat and raising our body temperature. At the end of the day, after eating 1,500 calories worth of proteins, a substantial intake, only 1,050 calories remain after digestion. 

Proteins Reduce Your Appetite - snacking on proteins does delay your urge for your next meal and does reduce the amount that you then eat. What is more, eating only protein foods produces ketones, powerful natural appetite suppressants that are responsible for a lasting feeling of satiety.

Proteins Fight Edema and Water Retention - Certain diets or foods are known as being “hydrophilic”—that is, they encourage water retention and the bloating this causes. This is the case for mostly vegetable diets, rich in fruits, vegetables, and mineral salts. Protein- rich diets are the exact opposite. They are known to promote elimination through urine and, as such, provide a welcome purge or “drying out” for tissues gorged with water, which is a particular problem during the premenstrual cycle or during perimenopause.

Proteins Enable You to Lose Weight Without Losing Muscle or Skin Tone - A diet lacking in proteins forces the body to use its own muscles and the skin’s proteins, so the skin loses its elasticity. Combined, these effects cause aging of the skin, the hair, and even one’s general appearance. A diet high in protein has no reason to attack the body’s reserves because the body is being given massive protein supplies.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

Protein, found in lean meats, turkey, chicken, low fat dairy products and soy and quinoa, can help you lose weight by increasing your feeling of fullness, therefore, helping you stop eating sooner. 

Protein is important for weight loss, but keep in mind that portions are important. No more than 5-6 ounces of lean protein per day for women, and 6-8 ounces per day for men. 

Kate Geagan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein packs staying power; studies suggest that high protein foods, even at the same number of calories, have greater staying power than carbs or even fat, keeping you full and energized longer. Protein also helps preserve lean muscle tissue that not only looks great (think of that toned arms look), but your lean muscle tissue is your metabolic furnace, keeping your metabolism revved up. Include protein in all your meals and snacks. Aim for 50-70 grams daily, or about 12-15% of total calories.
Cindy Guirino
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. In other words, it will keep you full the longest as compared to carbohydrates and fats. The RDA for protein is .8 gm/kg IBW. For example, I weigh 115 pounds so I take that and convert it to kilograms. 115/2.2 = 52.3 kg x .8 = 42 grams of protein a day.
Marilyn Ricci, M.S., R.D.
Nutrition & Dietetics

Small amounts of protein are a great snack as protein does not raise blood sugar quickly. Therefore it is a satisfying food that gives you a feeling of being full. You don't feel the need to eat more as you do with foods that are high in sugar and starch. Remember though that overeating any food contributes to weight gain.   

Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics

Increasing the amount of protein in your diet can help you to lose weight by increasing both satiation and satiety. Satiation is the feeling of fullness during a meal that will cause you to stop eating. Satiety is the feeling of fullness that continues from the end of that meal until the next time you eat (in between meals, or in between a meal and a snack). This is important because an increase in both of these factors can lead to a natural decrease in the amount of calories you consume in a day. Weight loss is basically a result of expending more calories than you consume. So, the process of eating more protein, feeling more full, and eating less calories would help you lose weight.

Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine
There is more to protein than physical appearance. Some of the less known functions of protein include the repair and building of tissues, hormone and enzyme production and a vehicle to carry oxygen throughout the body. 20-30 percent of your total caloric intake should come from healthy protein sources. This means that if your caloric intake is 1500 calories a day, 300 –– 450 of the calories must come from protein. Protein provides 7 calories per gram. Without consuming adequate protein, you are depriving your body of a natural fat burner. So by exercising and eating the proper amount of protein to increase your lean muscle mass you can burn more fat -- even when you are not doing anything physically active. This is very important as we age and become less active.
Protein has been linked with increased satiety, the feeling of fullness. Moderate amounts of protein can be part of healthful weight loss as long as the protein-rich foods are low in fat and portion controlled. Weight Watchers encourages its members to eat some protein each day.

Some people believe that very high-protein diets are the best way to lose weight. These diets only enhance the initial water loss that is commonly seen at the beginning of a weight-loss program. Over time, very high-protein diets do not lead to a superior weight loss. Also, the large amount of protein consumed on this type of diet places excessive stress on the kidneys. And very high-protein diets can make you feel tired, light-headed, and irritable. They also tend to be high in fat and cholesterol, which can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.
Shraddha Chaubey
Nutrition & Dietetics

Protein in your diet does not help you lose weight. Overall appropriate calorie controlled diet with an adequate balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat for your age, gender and health conditions will help you lose weight. To understand your daily needs for these nutrients you need to contact a registered dietitian in your area.

Judith Mabel
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein rich foods like meats, dairy, beans and tofu take longer to digest than simple or even complex carbohydrates. Therefore, you are not hungry for a longer time, and you will eat less. It has been shown in studies that both children and adults who eat a protein-rich breakfast choose fewer snacks and a smaller lunch later on.
Cassie Vanderwall
Nutrition & Dietetics

Protein can help people to lose weight because it takes more time for the body to breakdown and process. It also can help to balance blood sugar for the same reason. The best choices for protein are those that are lower in fat, or "lean" such as:

  • Kidney beans and legumes
  • Low-fat milk or soy milk
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Light yogurt
  • Skinless poultry (chicken and turkey)
Nadine Pazder
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein is very slow to digest and provides "satiety" or a sense of satisfaction to a meal or snack. When protein is included in a meal or snack as part of a reduced calorie eating plan, it can help to keep you full between meals. When you are not physically hungry all of the time it is easier to stick to a plan and ultimately lose weight.
Dorothy Lauren O'Connor
Nutrition & Dietetics

Protein will keep you satisfied longer (than carbs), and thus helps control your appetite. This is simply because it takes longer to digest. Furthermore, your body works harder to digest proteins and there is more energy burned in the process. But it is important to remember that carbs (including: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) are your body's preferred source of energy and your body needs adequate energy, as well as, phytonutrients to function well. So adding in protein to your meals and snacks will help you get the benefit of both. 

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics
Protein can help you feel satisfied and create more balanced meals. It also improves your body's regulation of carbohydrate digestion, preventing huge spikes in insulin. Including low fat, high protein foods can help you maintain a lower calorie consumption, but still be filling.
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

Protein is important in your diet to maintain your muscles and essential body functions. Muscle tissue actively burns calories to help you lose weight. Choose high quality protein occurring in foods naturally from lean meats, eggs, and dairy or from vegan sources such as legumes, beans, nuts, or hearty whole grains such as quinoa. 

Hiral Modi
Nutrition & Dietetics

Adding protein in a diet helps to lose weight in different ways.

  1. Protein promotes satiety (pleasant feeling of fullness after meal) making you feel full for longer.
  2. Protein requires more energy (almost double) for digestion as compare to carbohydrate and fat, so you burn more calories.
  3. Protein helps to build muscle and for every pound of muscle body burns additional 50 calories to maintain it.

Thus by eating protein in your diet you increase metabolism as well as satiety which in turn helps you to lose weight.

Martha O'Gorman
Nutrition & Dietetics

A meal or snack that contains a protein rich food provides more satiety - a comfortable sense of fullness. For example: When snacking on crackers you might find you can quickly eat several handfuls and still feel hungry. Try eating just a few crackers with an ounce of flavorful cheese and a bit of fresh fruit. Most individuals will feel more satisfied and more in control. The same goes for a bowl of pasta. Add a lean protein source as well as plenty of vegetables. The overall effect is fewer calories and that is what leads to ultimate weight loss.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics

 A higher amount of protein in a diet has been said to satisfy hunger more than carbohydrates. In a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition they reported that people experienced greater weight loss and less hunger when fat was reduced to 20% of the total calories in their diet, protein was increased to 30% and carbs were 50% of their diet. Participants consumed on average 441 fewer calories a day, using the high-protein diet. 

Protein also helps in weight loss because it helps your body gain muscle, which in turn helps burn more calories by increasing your metabolism.

Alberta Scruggs
Nutrition & Dietetics

Dietary protein assists weight loss by burning additional energy (kcalories) as it is changed into amino acids; by remaining in the stomach longer (causing a feeling of satiety or fullness); by maintaing muscle mass and health; and by releasing the hormone leptin, that regulates / inhibits appetite.

It takes more energy to burn protein than carbohydate. Therefore , you're burning kcalories (making a caloric deficit).

Amino Acids are not as easily absorbed by the body as glucose (the end product of carbohydrate). Therefore, it stays in the stomach longer, providing a feeling of "fullness" longer.

Protein helps maintain muscle mass and helps prevent muscle loss during weight loss. Muscle is the determinant of your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns kcalories). The more muscle tissue you have, the more kcalories you'll burn to maintain it.

The amino acid (end product of protein), leucine, lowers your triglyceride level in the blood. This action triggers the release of leptin, which tells the brain "You're full".


Karen Graham
Nutrition & Dietetics
Another way protein aids in weight loss is by developing muscle. Your body cannot maintain or increase muscle without enough protein in the diet. Muscle is highly metabolic, meaning muscle burns fat. So, the more lean mass that you have, the higher your metabolism functions. If you exercise regularly but don't eat enough protein you will have a difficult time developing muscle.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Protein and Weight Loss
High-protein diets are not about excluding all other food groups, but eating more protein has shown positive results when it comes to weight loss and diet maintenance.

Here's why: fish, chicken, beef, beans and other protein-rich foods don't travel as quickly from the stomach to the intestine. This basically means your stomach empties at a much slower rate - so you feel fuller longer, and as a result, eat less. Proteins don't cause a spike in blood sugar levels - and the subsequent crash. The body also has to use more energy to digest protein - you actually burn more calories in the process.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.