Pass the Protein, Please!

Well, I’ll be —! This study on protein’s role in hunger management made our day. It’s an oldie but a goody.

The amount of a hunger-fighting hormone can be increased by eating a higher protein diet, researchers report in the September issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, published by Cell Press. The hormone, known as peptide YY (PYY), was earlier found by the researchers to reduce food intake by a third in both normal-weight and obese people when given by injection. We’ve now found that increasing the protein content of the diet augments the body’s own PYY, helping to reduce hunger and aid weight loss,” said Medical Research Council clinician scientist Rachel Batterham of University College London, who led the new study.

Ain’t that a kick in the head? O.K., let’s throw in our favorite part just for good measure:

One potential weight loss strategy is therefore to increase the satiating power of the diet and promote weight loss through the addition of dietary protein–harnessing our own satiety system. Such a diet is perhaps more typical to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors,” [Batterham] added.

What was that again? Hunter-gatherer, did she say? (High fives all around.)

Of course, this isn’t the first study to address the importance of satiety in dieting, and neither is it the first to suggest that high protein diets offer a sense of fullness and encourage people to eat less throughout the day. What’s new, the authors say, is pinpointing the hormonal “mechanism” behind the difference.

And it makes perfect sense to us. Proteins, by most accounts, aren’t binge-inducing foods (unless you’re John Candy trying to score a free steak dinner in Uncle Buck). Proteins are digested slowly, don’t flood your bloodstream with glucose and then leave you sprawled out in post-carb crash. They’re the kind of meal, as your granddaddy would say, that sticks to your bones. They’re savory, a little salty and oh, so satisfying. We’d eat them on a train. We’d eat them on a plane.

Seriously, though, the results of this study underscore the primary importance of understanding our bodies and their physiological heritage. It’s mind boggling how much time, energy and money we spend trying to invent another trick, find a shortcut that hoodwinks Mother Nature. It begs the question: when will we stop working against biology? The fact is, when we eat in accordance with how we were designed, things go pretty smoothly.

As grandmamma would say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Instead of rocket science, let’s start thinking Occam’s Razor. Yes, sometimes the simplest explanation really is the best.

So, go on now and enjoy a hearty breakfast, lunch, whatever. And remember, healthy means hearty, and healthy not only tastes great, it hits the spot.

via Biology News

jspatchwork Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Why the Atkins Diet Works

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

Weight of the Evidence: PYY in Pill? Get Real.

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19 thoughts on “Pass the Protein, Please!”

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  1. If I gots this straight, the article is saying injecting ourselves with PYY and eating protein accomplish the same thing? Is there a PYY supplement out there?

  2. These studies are nice, but what about explaining real life experience in restaurants that feature large amounts of meat-eating in the form of burgers, wings, chicken fingers, etc? Those folks do not appear to be satiated by anything other than indigestion and constipation.

    MY real life experience has been that losing and maintaining my weight while adding lean muscle tissue has been the EASIEST thing I have ever done since eliminating meat in my diet. Perhaps I’m simply an outlier to these studies?

  3. The difference is in NOT eating the mashed potatoes, biscuits, buns, sodas, milkshakes and all the other fast food “goodies” that jack the insulin up and otherwise overwhelm the PYY.

  4. What Mark said. I reach satiation really, really fast when I get barbecue if all I eat is the meat.

  5. Oh…I’m sorry,is this news?

    Even though the science confirms it now doesn’t mean alot of people didn’t already know that a high protein diet reduces hunger greatly.

    The movie you’re thinking of is “The Great Outdoors” not “Uncle Buck”.

    (Sorry if I’m a little cranky but someone ate my turkey burger…)

  6. Maybe this isn’t news… but you’d think it is, given the amount of people I tell about “eat more proteins if you don’t want to be hungry” and who then look at me with as much life in their eyes as a dead cow… ^_^;

  7. I will have to pay closer attention to all the thin wannabe-cowboys at The Salt Lick when I’m in Texas next month. That is one thing I remember, all those big plates of BBQ going to waste because everyone in the room is simply satisfied with eating less. Except for the fact that all their giant rodeo belt buckles are hidden under their well-satiated bellies 🙁

    Eating properly, including volume of food, is a cognitive process; those with the mental discipline to do it succeed and those with psychological weakness do not.

  8. Another study showing that some diets work for some, and not for others. How many of those are out there now? A number of posts ago, you mentioned how great the atkins diet is. I personally think the atkins diet is the worst/inefficient diet out there, especially for athletes. But, who am I to say that because the diet works for some people.

    Some people prefer certain diets over others. I personally stopped eating meat, and increased fruits/veggies, lost weight, and feel great. Others who are just as physically fit (I am a triathlete) have much higher protein diets, and eat meat – that works for them.

    I think there is a combination of a well balanced diet, and “what works for you”. That is the only “study” one needs to conduct.

  9. Brian – I don’t think eating properly is solely, or even primarily, a cognitive process. We are animals, after all, and animals in their natural state follow tend to follow two patterns – maintaining a constant weight, or late summer/fall weight gain followed by hibernation and winter/early spring weight loss. It is only humans and domesticated animals (who are dependent on humans for food) who get fat and stay fat. It’s us with our big brains who get fat.

    It’s the stuff that is usually served with the meat at a barbecue joint that causes weight gain – sugary sauces, cornbread, white flour rolls, coleslaw loaded with sugar, pecan or squash or sweet potato pies, starchy succotash … If you eat just the meat and the collard greens, you can stay thin and healthy on barbecue.

    I don’t meant to suggest that there are not cognitive/psychological factors to eating. I have known for over five years that I was healthier and slimmer on a diet very similar to the one Mark suggests, but there was a period of three years when I simply could not psych myself up to give up all the junk I thought I loved. I simply suggest that, if you make the psychological effort to eat a high protein, controlled-carbohydrate diet for just one or two weeks, suddenly the psychological factors melt away. Conversely, you can use all the psychological tricks you want – smaller plates, serving food in the kitchen rather than family style, avoiding distractions while eating – and not be truly healthy if you continue to eat the same kinds of foods you were eating before.

  10. Ryan – you say you lost “weight.” Do you know if it was muscle or fat? Have you ever had your body mass composition measured? Just curious.

  11. But Ryan, then what of the psychological fun and moral superiority that is reached when one ‘knows’ the ‘right’ way and seeks to tell others who have succeeded in other ways that they are wrong?

    But Migraineur, is it not my mind that decides what and when to eat. I doubt any of us using our computers to read this are in a state of foraging in the forest for food when our bellies feel hungry. When I use my intellect to tell myself giving into a craving will not be a good thing, the craving passes. When I use my mind to fixate on really wanting it anyway, guess what’s going to happen? Never has my hand involuntarily grabbed something and put it to my mouth in a strictly biological need to have sustenance. It is always proceeded by a thought and the mind can be trained what action to take with that thought. I can crave a Pepsi, but if I move on and decide that it’s not going to be good for me to do so, the craving passes.

  12. Well, my mind can read Jane Brody’s column in the New York Times and decide to eat a low-fat high-carbohydrate, calorie-controlled diet (which is what my mind did for many years). But because that diet fails to meet my body’s daily protein needs and because it causes insulin to spike and blood sugar to plummet, my body is going to continue to cry for further nourishment, leading me to want to eat more. If my mind continues to decide that low-fat, calorie-controlled diets are a good thing, I can refuse to eat more. But I can only do that for so long before I begin to incur hunger pangs or get the low-blood sugar shakes. Ever get the low-blood sugar shakes, Brian? That’s your body telling your mind that your mind doesn’t know what’s best, and if you’ve ever experienced them, you know that your need to eat something, anything, whatever is at hand is so intense that it is almost as if your hand leaps out and grabs the food without thinking. You can’t get around the body’s demands for nourishment by thinking them away.

  13. You’re right; mis-informed psychology can never work. I also meant being correctly knowledgeable when I preceeded my comments with ‘Eating properly’. How many years did it take you to cognitively realize that what you were doing wasn’t working or wasn’t good for you?

    Even though it is claimed that humans must be meat-eaters, I have not eaten meat in 18-months and have apparently violated all evolutionary pangs by never having a biological craving for it. I have lost much fat, gained muscle mass, and overall feel much better than I did before. I have changed nothing else about what I eat because I always ate a lot of fruits and vegetables and whole food sources of carbs. I simply replaced some of those vegies with higher protein sources. I also go through about a liter of EVOO every couple weeks, paying no attention to how much fat, protein, or carbs make up my diet; eating more if I’ve lost muscle mass; eating less when I want to lose fat. None of this is ‘naturally’ known by my body, but learned through years of reading and experimenting with myself.

    Basically, what I mean to say is that there are many paths to follow and when you find one that works for you, go for it. But don’t sit around claiming that every other human should follow your path or they are wrong, even if it’s working for them.

  14. Bryan, we low-carbers are a bit defensive sometimes because we are so used to being told we are killing ourselves by following our diets. I know how annoying that is, and I apologize if I’ve done the same to you.

    I had an aha moment reading Gary Taubes’ article in the NYT magazine 5 1/2 years ago, in which I recognized myself and my symptoms. I don’t completely dismiss cognition. I just mean that my body, with its shakes and cold sweats and severe hunger pangs, was telling me something. If I’d listened to it, instead of to what my brain had been reading all those years, I wouldn’t have been in the position I was in in July 2002 – on the fast track to diabetes. Ironically, though, if I had ignored most of what I’d read in the papers for the prior decade, I would’ve been much better off.

  15. Here is the source of the problem: We are creatures of the Pleistocene [a prehistorical era] who have developed Holocene [the historical era] habits.

    The best diet for either health or weight loss consists of eating the Pleistocene kinds of food our ancestors ate, which are natural for us to eat. It is a low carbohydrate (but not no carbohydrate) diet).

    They ate, possibly, several pounds of vegetables and fruits daily and, when it was available, perhaps a pound flesh foods (including internal organs and marrow from long bones).

    It was a diet that consisted of fats, proteins, and natural (unrefined, unprocessed) carbohydrates. Our Pleistocene ancestors ate very little or no salt.

    Instead of products full of sugar and flour, they ate no processed carbohydrates. They had no chocolate and no beer, wine, or spirits. They ate no cereal grains. They consumed no dairy products.

    Our ancestors ate this type of diet from about two-and-one-half million years ago until the Agricultural Revolution about ten thousand years ago.

    It was a very successful way of eating; had it been otherwise we would not have survived as a species.

    Though it’s a much greater span of time than most of us think about in our daily lives, it’s important to think about our ancestors as they lived over 10,000 years ago.


    In terms of the evolution of our genes, it’s not that long ago. In fact, less than 1/10th of 1% of our genes have changed in the last 10,000 years! In other words, your body is extremely similar to the bodies of your ancestors.

    Our ancestors evolved to get most of their calories from fats, not from carbohydrates.
    They had a wholly natural diet.

    As a result, our bodies are: well equipped to consume fats and proteins but poorly equipped to consume carbohydrates.

    Moreover, they certainly had the best weight loss diet in the sense that being overweight or obese was never a problem.

  16. Jane, I mostly agree with you, but I question your numbers of pounds of vegetables versus meat. How many daily pounds of vegetables would someone eat in the Pleistocene winter? How could you find that many pounds of edible plants under snow cover?

  17. What’s forgotten in this discussion is that anything that happened more than a couple thousand years ago is simply a guess. It cannot be proven by anything more convincing than the evidence against OJ.

    Instead of paying attention to my evolutionary chimpanzee genes, I read things, try things, make decisions from hand to mouth, and see what happens. This works, that doesn’t, and I try something else. Unfortunately for all the arguments here, the caveman thing doesn’t work for my mind and emotions which are a real part of my being; it’s part of being human as opposed to simply a primate. The other unfortunate part of thinking meat-eating is necessary rather than simply a choice is that I don’t eat meat and I am perfectly healthy and experience all of the same benefits that you folks claim.

    Please, would some ‘expert’ here explain how I am able to achieve these results without doing things your way?

  18. The majority of the weight that was lost was predominately fat, and not muscle. This diet change was performed during my triathlon off season (3 months), and since starting back up, I have been doing 2 strength training (ie. weights) workouts/week.

    Brian, I agree with you on that (provided it wasn’t a sarcastic comment), but my point is that this is just another study showing that one particular diet (or thought process) works. My perspective is that it works for some people – and not all.

  19. I want to say that I’ve only been eating Primal for a few weeks (usually at about 50 carbs a day, sometimes up to 100) It has been so surprising to me that the lack of hunger and cravings is actually one of the most liberating parts of this diet. I’ve always struggled with my weight, at best I’ve been curvy, at worse (especially after my kids were born and I wasn’t paying enough attention to myself) I’ve been fat. I was heavy as a child and as a teen. When people say that it’s psychological weakness that makes people overeat – it’s not that it hurts my feelings – cause whatever, everyone is entitled to their opinion and luckily I’m getting more instead of less confident as I age. But I just think that if they knew how many times a day I was facing and having to deal with hunger when I was eating high carb, they would change their tune. I think I’m like a lot of folks, especially women. I don’t want to be hungry 10 times a day, and to have to make a “responsible choice” that many times a day. It’s so easy to reach for a fiber one bar – and that just leads to more fiber one bars. I’ve always been a really healthy eater, and I’ve been between 10 and 40 pounds overweight. I care about how I look but I’m also sort of a geek and really devoted to family life. What I love about this way of eating is that I have my head back for my passions and interests. And I’m not constantly feeling ashamed about how hungry I am and how many snacks I’m having and how bad I am at resisting cravings. It’s just liberation. Even if weight loss were nonexistent (don’t worry – it’s not!) I would be eating this way just for the freedom from cravings. Thanks Mark!