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Can protein help with weight loss?

Protein is an essential nutrient in your diet. It helps you maintain lean muscles, regulate your appetite and keep you full, so you can manage those distracting food cravings. No more diving for the biscuit barrel at 3pm.

But just how much protein do you really need each day, especially if you are looking to lose weight?

Women need just 46g of protein a day, more if you are pregnant (60g a day) or over 70 (57g a day). For men it’s 64g a day, increasing to 81g a day when they are over 70.

However, for weight loss, when to eat protein is just as important as how much to eat.

Our bodies can’t store protein and excess will generally be converted and stored as fat The best approach is to spread your protein intake over the day. To trim down, the CSIRO recommends aiming for at least 25g per meal and an extra 10g for snacks.

Balancing out your protein intake across the day can help you lose weight by keeping your appetite in check, boosting your metabolism and energy intake, and reducing food cravings.

Here are my top 3 tips for nailing a healthy protein balance:

1. Eat more protein at breakfast  

Generally, women don’t get enough protein at breakfast so try to focus on adding extra protein to start the day. That doesn’t need to be bacon and eggs or a protein shake. Here are two quick and easy plant powered protein breakfasts that easily tip over 25g of protein, without expensive bars and powders:

  • Top wholegrain cereal with yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts and you’ll easily reach more than 25g of protein. Breakdown: 2/3 cup of low fat yoghurt (12.7g protein), two cereal wheat biscuits (3.8g protein), 1 cup of soy milk (8g protein) and a handful of cashews (5g protein).

  • Try baked beans and avo on wholegrain toast with a soy latte on the side. Breakdown: 220g can baked beans (10.6g protein), two slices wholegrain toast (6.6g protein), 1 cup soy milk (8g protein).

2. Swap to healthier protein  

Kiwis generally get enough protein, but it’s not always from the right foods. In fact we get around 40 per cent of our protein from discretionary foods, or foods such as processed meats, fast foods, pastries, biscuits and cakes. It’s not that these foods are always high in protein, it just means people eat a lot of them.

Discretionary foods provide little nutritional value, so while they may contain some protein, they’ll often come with a lot of added sugars, salt and saturated fats.

In fact, reducing animal protein intake by replacing with plant proteins is associated with lowering body fat. So, for healthier protein options, stick to mostly wholefoods and plant food sources including legumes, peas, nuts, seeds, soy products such as tofu, soy milk and soy yoghurt, and wholegrains. Also, that way you’re getting your protein with a whole lot of vitamins, minerals and protective plant phytochemicals!

3. Too much of a good thing 

Too much of any food or food group, even protein, can provide more kilojoules than your body requires and in turn sabotage your weight loss or can even cause weight gain. So don’t overdo it. Regular overconsumption may also put a strain on kidneys, while some sources of animal-based protein are high in saturated fats which can increase risk of heart disease.

Do you have a diet question? Or have you seen a nutrition study and wondered about what it means? We’d love to hear from you.

Contact our team of expert dietitians by using the free Ask a Dietitian service - online form here, or you can email or call on 0800 673 392.