- Protein is an essential component of a healthy diet, even among people working on weight loss programs.
- According to a new studyYoIncreasing protein intake can improve people’s food choices and decrease the amount of sugar and refined grains they consume.
- The researchers found that among people looking to lose weight, higher protein intake may also reduce the loss of lean body mass.
Eating a variety of nutritious foods is essential for health and well-being. What makes up a person’s diet will have an impact on multiple areas of health, including maintaining a healthy weight. Protein is a critical component of the diet.
A challenge for people who are working to lose weight is maintaining lean body mass while getting rid of excess fat. lean body mass (LBM) has to do with the mass of the body that is not made up of adipose tissue or body fat. Part of this amount is made up of muscles, or muscle mass.
Dr Anastasia Street with the Division of Medicine at University College London, which was not involved in the study, explained to Today’s medical news:
“Although various dietary habits, lifestyle, [behavioral]Although pharmacological or combined weight loss interventions are promising, they are often challenged by loss of lean body mass, which has multiple negative health implications. Affects quality of life [and] the ability to perform activities of daily living has effects on neuromuscular function, emotion and psychological states, and also affects the sustainability of weight loss because it is related to metabolic deterioration”.
“The holy grail of successful weight loss intervention is finding a way to maintain LBM. Therefore, weight loss strategies that protect lean body mass are valuable.”
– Dr. Anastasia Street
Researchers are still working to understand how protein intake affects lean muscle mass and how to best implement protein in weight loss diets.
In this study, the researchers sought to examine how “change in self-selected protein intake during calorie restriction (CR) alters diet quality and lean body mass (LBM).”
The study used pooled data from multiple trials and included participants who met specific eligibility criteria. The researchers evaluated 207 adults before and during six months of diets that restricted calorie intake.
All participants were overweight or obese. All participants underwent a weight loss intervention that lasted six to twelve months. All had weekly counseling sessions for the first eight weeks and follow-up visits with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
The researchers assessed both body composition via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and dietary intake. They also looked at components such as protein sources and diet quality. Based on intake data, they divided the participants into two groups: lower and higher protein intake.
study author Dr. Sue Formsprofessor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said MNT: “In the design of this study, we divided the participants in half based on the amount of protein they consumed during the 6 months of weight loss.”
The researchers found that the amount of weight loss was similar for both groups. However, among the high-protein group, there was less loss of lean body mass.
Participants in the high-protein group also made healthier food choices, such as higher intake of green vegetables and decreased consumption of refined grains and added sugar.
Prof. Shapses explained:
“A surprising aspect of this study is that while all subjects were instructed to consume sufficient protein and a healthy diet during the weight loss trial, it was unexpected that those who ate less protein had less desirable results.”
“We found that those who ate less protein also ate lower quality foods (such as more refined grains and added sugar and fewer green vegetables).”
— Dr. Sue Formas
Overall, this study indicates that increasing the protein component of the diet may be beneficial for people working to lose weight. However, it has some limitations.
For example, participants self-reported their dietary intake, so there is potential for errors in data collection. However, participants were given advice on how to record food intake and food intake data collection was done at multiple intervals, which decreased the risk of errors.
In addition, the type of protein can also affect the benefits. In this study, much of the protein the participants consumed came from lean meat or plant sources. The study authors note that the study included primarily white women and was completed in a primary location, so the results may not necessarily be generalizable.
The methods the researchers used to measure lean body mass also did not differentiate between organ mass and muscle mass. Therefore, we cannot assume that the loss of lean body mass in the lower protein group is solely due to loss of muscle mass.
As research in this area advances, more people may choose to incorporate healthy protein options into their diets as they work toward healthy weight levels. This concept and ongoing research may also help people maintain lean body mass, even when looking to lose weight.
Professor Shapses noted:
“At any time, greater LBM loss is not a good outcome, but it is particularly unfavorable for middle-aged and older people trying to lose weight for health reasons.”
“The higher-protein group lost as much fat as the lower-protein group, but was able to minimize LBM loss (suggesting attenuated loss of muscle mass),” he emphasized.
Dr. Kalea said that there were still knowledge gaps to fill in this area of research.
“We have made progress in understanding the quality and digestibility aspects of protein, but we need to better understand how to preserve LBM when we restrict energy for weight loss, we need to understand whether a combination of different protein sources within a dietary pattern affects LBM, and how to customize our interventions and efficiently define sufficient intake for each individual,” he said.