Food/Nutrition Columnist
Playing the Hunger Games – Eat More Protein to Win
Jul 29, 2013 - 12:02:00 AM

( - It's 10:30 in the morning and you are starving and can't wait for the coffee cart to get to your floor at work, even though you had coffee and a buttered roll for breakfast. Heading home after work you grab a candy bar from the news stand. That salad you had at lunch just isn't making you feel full. Going out to dinner with friends you think you will indulge and order a steak. If you are playing the hunger games and trying to lose weight, or even more importantly, trying to keep off the hard won pounds you lost, each of the situations above will cause you to eat more.

The science of why we eat and why we stop eating is very complex. We eat for physiological reasons - to stay alive - and we stop eating when our body signals we are full. If that system worked correctly we would all feel full after eating and no one would ever overeat. Most of the time our body's normal hunger and fullness signals are overridden by cues that make us eat outside our body's required energy needs.

What researchers are uncovering is that it may not simply be the amount of calories you eat, but the type of food in your meals may be driving you to eat more than you need because you don't feel full. In scientific terms fullness is called satiety, the amount of time you feel satisfied (not hungry) between meals. Foods high in protein appear to increase satiety. They make you feel fuller longer.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. For a 150 pound woman that would be about 55 grams of protein a day; for a 180 pound man, approximately 65 grams. Many researchers now think that this is too little and are suggesting 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein daily per kilogram of body weight. This translates into 90 to 150 grams of protein a day divided more evenly between your meals and snacks.

Before your eyes glaze over with all these numbers and kilograms let's bring this down to the food you eat. In the US cereal drives the breakfast meal and most people eat only 10 grams of their total protein for the day in the morning. Lunch may be slighter higher in protein, but not much more, accounting for about 17 grams of protein. Dinner is when most of eat the most protein, as much as 65 grams. We eat too little protein for breakfast and lunch and too much for dinner.

In terms of weight this may be the reason we get the mid-morning and mid-afternoon munchies and the protein we eat at dinner is more likely to be stored as fat in the body. It may simply be too much protein at one meal. Most protein experts, like Heather Leidy, PhD, suggest a more even distribution of protein throughout the day. She suggests 30 grams per meal. That seems to be the amount the body uses well and it provides the feeling of fullness that stops you from getting the munchies before your next meal.

Dr. Leidy and others want us to eat some protein at every meal. Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, Greek yogurt, lowfat milk, beans, jerky, tofu, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources. Eating your protein may be better than a high protein shake because the act of chewing also increases the sense of satisfaction after a meal.

Here's what the studies are telling us about protein and weight control.

But don't get carried away. If you eat a very high protein diet the leftover is stored as fat in your body. Too many of any type of calories will cause weight gain. It is wiser to increase your protein a little and eat some at every meal. Instead of toast and jelly for breakfast, try a hard cooked egg or Greek yogurt. Instead of a tossed vegetable salad for lunch, add some shrimp, tuna, beef or chicken to up the protein content. Grab nuts or sunflower seeds as a snack. Eat some peanut butter with your apple. Choose lean proteins for dinner and keep the serving size to no more than 6 ounces.

To find out more about the real skinny on protein and weight control, take a look at one of my books, The Protein Counter, 3rd ed., Pocket Books.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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