A higher protein intake during a diet leads to a healthier diet


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Summary: Incorporating a high-protein eating plan while dieting leads to overall healthier eating habits and helps reduce lean body mass loss. Reduced lean body fat loss is associated with weight loss.

Source: Rueger

According to a Rutgers study, eating more protein during a diet leads to better food choices and helps prevent lean body mass loss.

An analysis of pooled data from multiple weight loss studies conducted at Rutgers shows that a small increase in the amount of protein from 18 percent of a person’s dietary intake to 20 percent has a significant impact on the quality of the food choices made by the person.

The study was published in the medical journal obesity.

“It’s somewhat remarkable that a self-selected, slightly higher protein intake during a diet is associated with higher intakes of green vegetables and reduced intakes of refined grains and added sugars,” said Sue Shapses, study author and professor of nutrition at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS). “But that’s exactly what we found.”

In addition, the researchers found that moderately higher protein intake provided dieters with another benefit: reduced lean body mass loss, which is often associated with weight loss.

Weight-loss programs that include calorie restrictions can often encourage dieters to reduce their intake of healthy foods that contain micronutrients like iron and zinc. Eating higher amounts of protein is often associated with healthier outcomes, but the link between protein intake and diet quality is poorly understood, researchers say.

“The impact of self-selected dietary protein on diet quality has, to our knowledge, never been studied in this way before,” said Anna Ogilvie, study co-author and PhD student in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers SEBS.

“Exploring the relationship between protein intake and diet quality is important because diet quality in the US is often suboptimal and higher protein diets are popular.”

Data was collected from more than 200 men and women who have participated in Rutgers clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health over the past two decades. Analysis of food records and diet quality for this study was funded by the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences in Washington, DC

The participants were between 24 and 75 years old and registered a body mass index that categorized them as either overweight or obese. All participants were encouraged to lose weight by following a 500-calorie deficit diet and met regularly for nutritional advice and support over a six-month period.

This shows a salmon dinner
In addition, the researchers found that moderately higher protein intake provided dieters with another benefit: reduced lean body mass loss, which is often associated with weight loss. The image is in the public domain

Participants received nutritional advice based on Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Diabetes Association guidelines. They were encouraged to allocate 18 percent of their calorie intake to lean protein such as poultry, unprocessed red meat, fish, legumes and dairy, and allocate the rest of their calories to fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They were discouraged from consuming saturated fats, refined grains, sugar and salt.

Participants kept detailed food records, which researchers analyzed for diet quality, specific food categories and ratios consumed, and specific protein sources.

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This shows a man clutching his stomach

The participants, who chose their protein intake, were then divided by the researchers into a lower protein approach with 18 percent of total calories from protein or a higher protein approach with 20 percent of total dietary intake from protein.

The study concludes:

  • Both the low- and high-protein groups lost the same amount of weight — about 5 percent of their body weight over six months
  • Those higher in protein chose a mix of healthier foods overall
  • Specifically, those in a higher protein group increased their intake of green vegetables and reduced sugar and refined grains
  • Individuals with a higher protein group were better able to maintain their lean muscle mass

Other Rutgers researchers working on the paper include Yvette Schlüssel and Lingqiong Meng from SEBS’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

About this news from nutrition and health research

Author: Megan Schumann
Source: Rueger
Contact: Megan Schumann-Rutgers
Picture: The image is in the public domain

Original research: The results appear in obesity

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