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Low carb weight loss diets beneficial for fat loss: How much protein debated

How much protein is enough?
How much protein is enough?
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

One of the most controversial topics in the weight loss world revolves around the ideal percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Should dieters eat more fat or more protein? Several new studies are providing additional food for thought, including one research project that shows high protein diets are better for maintaining muscle while burning fat, reported Forbes on July 15.

The newest study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, began with the assumption that 90 grams of protein per day is optimal. The open-ended question that they probed: Would people develop more muscle protein if they ate their protein divided among three meals rather than at dinner?

The results were significant: Muscle protein synthesis averaged 25 percent higher for participants who ate their protein in smaller amounts at each meal. The benefit continued after a week, indicating that no adjustment occurs and that the muscle benefits continue to be experienced.

The authors of the study summed up their results: "Unlike fat or carbohydrate, the human body has limited capacity to transiently store ‘excess’ dietary protein from a single meal to acutely stimulate muscle protein anabolism at a later time." Consequently, to benefit from protein, the typical American diet of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and giant steak for dinner needs an extreme makeover.

But the issue of how much protein was not fully defined in that or other studies. And the most recent research indicates that how much protein you need depends on your age and gender, reported NJ News on July 16.

Although the Institute of Medicine recommends eight grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight, many view that quantity as inadequate. For example, those who are physically active may need more protein.

In addition, a new study showed that older adults should consume extra protein to maintain muscle mass. Pregnant women and those who are nursing also need more protein.

And all types of protein aren't created equal, say some health experts. Paleo dieters argue against dairy and beans, for example, while vegans must get their protein from plant-based sources such as beans while disdaining dairy and eggs.

Adding to the protein debate, the merits of full-fat dairy versus low-fat dairy have attracted attention. One recent study revealed that those who ate full-fat dairy weighed less, reported Everyday Health on July 16.

In that study, researchers found that eating cheese and whole milk resulted in lower body weights. Although not conclusive, they extrapolated that the satisfying, filling nature of full-fat dairy caused the study participants to eat less.

But after studying apes and monkeys, nutritional ecologist David Raubenheimer is proposing a different way to judge the best amount of protein to consume for hunger. He has discovered that these animals in the wild regularly consume 20 percent of their diet in protein, reported Living Green magazine on July 15.

Regardless of when they ate and how much they ate, these healthy creatures seemed to intuitively know that they could function their best when choosing what appears to be the correct amount of protein for their bodies. Based on that discovery, Raubenheimer feels that high protein diets are the best approach for weight loss.

"This suggests that the baboon values getting the right balance of nutrients over energy intake per se," he said. "We can use this information to help manage and prevent obesity through ensuring that the diets we eat have a sufficient level of protein to satisfy our appetite."

The Atkins diet has become one of the most popular types of high protein low carb diets. However, as Raubenheimer noted, a balanced diet needs to contain more than protein.

In recent years, for that reason, the Atkins diet has changed from its emphasis on all-the-meat-you-can eat. In an exclusive interview, Atkins Nutritionals vice president of nutrition Colette Heimowitz explained that the company used the latest research to improve the quality of the diet.

The newest version of the diet includes more fiber and measured amounts of protein. In addition, it emphasizes fiber and healthy fats.

Professor Tim Noakes also is an advocate of low carb diets. He feels that the percentage of protein to fat should be based on the condition. "When you take carbohydrate out of your diet you have to replace the calories with either fat or protein. Thus one has high protein variants (Dukan diet)," while another one, the high fat version that he advocates, promotes nutritional ketosis, he explained in an exclusive interview.