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5 Things You Need to Know about Protein for Healthy Weight Loss

How healthy is the diet you’re choosing? When you’re looking at fad diets odds are you’re not thinking much about the potential health consequences of the suggested regime. You might think, “Oh what’s the possible harm?” Or, “I’m only going to do this for a short time.” Dieting however isn’t risk free; here are a few things--just regarding protein--to think about.

Protein helps with important components of healthy successful weight loss.

1. Higher protein intakes protect your bone mineral density as you lose weight (as long as you are also getting enough calcium and Vitamin D).[i] Since adult bodies have a hard time improving bone density, protecting it while on reduced-calorie-intake is important.

2. Second, protein keeps hunger away far longer than either carbohydrate or fat, so higher protein intakes make it easier to follow a reduced calorie diet. This is one reason why high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets typically produce greater weight loss in the first few weeks of dieting.

3. Protein also helps preserve muscle while you lose weight.

4. The minimum amount of protein needed to secure the above benefits is 70- to 80-grams per day. A more tailored estimate (based on “Ideal Body Weight”) is: 1 to 1.5-grams per kilogram “Ideal Body Weight.”[ii]

When you're not dieting 10- to 35% of calories from protein is an “acceptable” healthy range according to the RDIs.[iii] This range clearly provides ample room to accommodate all types of diet styles.

While on a reduced-calorie-diet the low end of healthy protein intake is a fixed amount (70- to 80-grams/day). Therefore you need to start with that number, and then determine how much of your remaining calorie-budget will come from carbohydrate and fat. As you can see in the following chart, the lower your calorie-intake-target the higher the percentage of protein it takes to hit the minimum healthy protein level.

5. With nutrition things are rarely black and white, so let's consider the other side of the protein coin. A high-protein diet that encourages sausage, bacon, pork rinds, etc., while limiting fruits, vegetables and whole grains is not a healthy diet--even in the short-term. Higher-protein diets however, exist along a continuum. By limiting processed carbohydrates and sugar, then choosing lean meats (especially poultry, fish and shellfish), low-fat dairy (or a calcium supplement), fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains it is possible to get the fiber, phytochemicals and nutrients needed to promote long-term health.[iii],[iv]

Remember your mother telling you to “eat your vegetables”? Well, it may never have been more important than when you are dieting. So while optimizing protein intake while dieting has positive effects, you also need to remember to choose healthy proteins and balance out your diet with lots of healthy vegetables, etc. When you're on a reduced-calorie diet, the quality of every calorie is even more important.


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[i]  Golay. Intl J Obes 2000;24:492-496.
[ii] Overweight and Weight Management. Dalton S. Aspen Publishers 1997.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids. National Academy of Sciences, 2002.
Fung TT, et al. Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: two cohort studies.
Ann Intern Med 2010;153:289-98.


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