A nutritionist’s review of high protein diets

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 22 Dec, 2020

We understand that when it comes to losing weight, you have to find an approach that works for you. Whether this be tracking calories, eating fewer carbs, intermittent fasting or any other approach – here at Nutracheck we have you covered! Our app can be used to facilitate a wide range of dietary approaches, so you have complete flexibility to follow the one that's the best fit for your lifestyle. Throughout January I've been reviewing some popular weight loss approaches so you can decide which one may be right for you. Next up...

Higher protein diets

How does it work?

Higher protein diets can be effective because protein is proven to be more satiating than carbohydrates and fats. This means we feel fuller faster when eating meals high in protein, compared to eating foods high in carbohydrates or fat. This can be really helpful when trying to follow a reduced calorie intake for weight loss, as it's much easier to stick to the allowance if you don't feel hungry.

Another benefit of high protein diets is that protein actually requires more energy to be digested than carbs and fats. It's estimated that 25% of the energy from the protein we eat is used to digest it, compared to just 5% for carbs and fat. This means that eating a higher protein diet gives us a metabolic boost too, as we burn more calories each day simply by digesting the food we've eaten.

Might it suit you?

We should all ensure we eat enough protein each day as it is required for various functions within our body, such as making new cells and hormones. But over and above the minimum amount, having a higher intake of protein could be of benefit to many of us.

If you tend to be a serial snacker, eating a high protein diet could help to break this cycle. Having more protein at meal times will help to fill you up for longer, so you can last between meals much more comfortably.

Likewise, if you find you constantly feel hungry when trying to follow a reduced calorie diet, then a higher protein intake could work well for you too. Many people find it easier to stick to their calorie allowance when they up the percentage of protein in their diet – so it's worth giving it a try!

Any downsides?

Too much of a good thing – while protein is important for our health and eating more than the absolute minimum can have its benefits, eating excessive amounts of protein can be detrimental. Like most things in life, too much of anything is never advised. When it comes to protein, very high intakes over an extended period of time can put a strain on our liver and kidneys and lead to potential health issues. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein, which is around 55g for the average person. So this means around 110g per day is fine, but much more than this is not advisable. (This figure is for an average person however – people who are bigger or very active would be able to eat more protein without concern).

Need to monitor saturated fat – Often foods high in protein can also be higher in saturated fat, such as meat and dairy foods. So it's important to opt for lean or low fat versions, and to include lower fat protein rich foods such as white fish, Quorn, tofu and pulses too.

Striking the right balance with carbs – upping one nutrient in our diet inevitably means we reduce another. When protein goes up, total carb intake usually comes down. This is not a big concern, but it's worth being aware of how low your carbohydrate intake drops to ensure you're still getting a healthy balance. Carbohydrate-rich foods are the only source of dietary fibre, so it's important to still include some in your diet – and also for the ones you choose to be nutrient rich. This means high fibre wholegrains and fruits/vegetables, instead of refined, high sugar versions.

Expense – depending on the types of protein foods you opt for, sometimes these can be a little more expensive. This doesn't have to be the case however as it's not necessary to buy protein powders or specialised high protein foods. Instead opt for frozen fish, pulses, milk and eggs which are much more affordable.

What does Nutracheck track?

The app offers a Higher Protein nutrition goal to follow, where we preselect your macronutrient allowances for you. This sets your protein allowance at around 110g per day, which is twice the minimum recommendation of 55g per day.

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to follow a higher protein allowance through personal choice, you can use the Set My Own goal to set any target. There are no restrictions with this setting, but we do highlight our recommended ranges. This function requires you to acknowledge a disclaimer stating that you take responsibility of the choice you are making – as it goes against the guidance we would give.

To select either of these options within the app, in your Diary page, tap on the white chart icon in the top right, scroll down and tap 'Higher Protein' or 'Set My Own'.

If you're just interested in tracking how much protein you eat each day, but are happy to follow our general healthy eating guidelines, then you can simply switch the second nutrient column in our app to show protein. To do this, tap on the black arrow at the top of the second nutrient column in your diary and select protein.

Nutritionist's expert opinion

Higher protein diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, in part because more people are striving for a more muscular or toned physique. Protein is a very important part of our diet and choosing to increase our intake a little can help us feel more satisfied. If you're someone who struggles with feeling hungry, then upping the protein in your diet could be very beneficial for you. It can also help to reduce cravings for high sugar foods as we are eating less carbohydrates to accommodate the extra protein – especially helpful when trying to lose weight.

Providing intake is not excessive, a higher protein diet can be a healthy way to eat and to manage weight – so it's worth giving a try. It's important to remember though that weight loss still comes down to calories in versus calories out. So sticking to a reduced calorie intake is still key – but eating more protein could make it easier to do this.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.