As Per New Study, Protein Hunger Results To Overeating Processed Foods

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People who ate more protein tend to overeat fats and carbohydrates because of the body’s strong appetite. Then, there’s also the study that shows that those who consumed more protein during breakfast consumed fewer calories all throughout the day.

Highly processed foods such as pizza, deli sandwiches, nutrition bars, and chips are found everywhere, and unfortunately, these have become a typical part of what you call the modern diet. People opt for these convenience foods as opposed to a protein-rich diet. This is why there are high obesity rates in the Western world. This was seen in a yearlong Australian study of dietary habits published in the latest issue of the journal Obesity.

“As people consume more junk foods or highly processed and refined foods, they dilute their dietary protein and increase their risk of being overweight and obese, which we know increases the risk of chronic disease,” said the lead author, Amanda Grech, PhD., in a press release. She’s a postdoctoral research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre in Sydney.

More Than 50 Percent of Our Calorie Intake Comes From Highly Processed Foods

When you talk about unprocessed or minimally processed foods, you can see them in the grocery store — fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meats, and dairy products. Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, chips, and frozen pizza, on the other hand, oftentimes contain high levels of added sugar, fat, and salt. These aren’t packed with vitamins and fiber that are good for our body.

Evidence from research points to the fact that Americans are eating more processed foods and not so much on the minimally processed ones. An 18-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in October 2021 saw how super-processed food consumption increased to 53.5 percent of calories in 2001 to 2002. By the time the study was concluded in 2017 to 2018, it further went up to 57 percent.

Protein Leverage Hypothesis: People Eat More Fats and Carbs to Satisfy Protein Demand

Researchers haven’t stopped making a case for what they call the protein leverage hypothesis. This concept was first put forward in 2005 by the University of Sydney faculty members and coauthors of the study, David Raubenheimer, DPhil, and Stephen Simpson, PhD.

In the said hypothesis, people tend to overeat fats and carbohydrates because the body has a strong appetite for protein. This is what the body chooses above everything else. Modern diets often includes highly processed and refined foods. These are low in protein. As a result, many crave energy-dense, or calorie-dense,  foods until their bodies get the protein its looking for.

So, why is protein crucial? That’s because these are the building blocks of life, according to the authors. Every cell has contains them and use them to repair cells or make new ones. Researchers have made an estimate and claimed that the body needs a million forms of protein to be able to function properly and efficiently.

People Who Had Less Protein at Breakfast Ate More Calories During the Day

Investigators got data from a 2011 to 2012 cross-sectional survey of nutrition and physical activity. This comprised of 9,341 adults (with an average age 46). This was also referred to as the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey.

In this study, they saw that the average energy intake was 8,671 kilojoules, or 2,072 calories. Within this caloric intake, the average percentage of energy that came from protein was just 18.4 percent. They compared this to the 43.5 percent from carbohydrates and 30.9 percent from fat, 2.2 percent from fiber, and 4.3 percent from alcohol. As for the kilojoules measurement, this is a method of measurement of potential energy or calories in Australia.

Adult women have calorie needs from 1,600 to 2,200 each day. As for men, they need 2,000 to 3,000 calories each day, per the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers made a plot on calorie intake versus the time of consumption. They saw how the pattern matched the one predicted by the Protein Leverage Hypothesis. It said that those who consumed fewer amounts of protein for the first meal saw an increase in their overall food intake in the meals that followed. On the other hand, those who got the recommended amount of protein did not eat more. In fact, they consumed less as the day progressed.

Moreover, the researchers also a big difference between groups by the third meal. Those who consumed a higher proportion of energy from protein at the beginning had a significantly lower total calorie intake after. Those who ate food low in protein at the beginning had an increased calorie consumption. This meant that they were looking for ways to make up for the lack of protein and resulted to eating and drinking more.

The same trend was seen even though the first meal they had was the least and this applied to both groups, and here they saw least amount of energy and food eaten, but the last meal they had was the most.

Those Who Had Lower Protein Intake in Their First Meal Snacked More

Participants who had less protein than what’s recommended during breakfast snacked more and this came in the form of calorie-dense meals that contain larger amounts of saturated fats, sugars, salt, or alcohol all throughout. They also had less of the recommended five food groups (grains, vegetables and legumes, fruit, dairy, and meats) during their meals.

“It’s increasingly clear that our bodies eat to satisfy a protein target,” said Dr. Raubenheimer in the press release.

There is a problem right now because Western diets for protein is decreasing, he said. “So, you have to consume more food to reach your protein target, which effectively elevates your daily energy intake.”

Because people had more appetite for protein, even more than the vital energy-providing nutrients of fats and carbohydrates, if the protein is diluted with fats and carbohydrates, they will eat more energy to get the protein that they unknowingly crave for, said Raubenheimer.

The findings they saw backed the main role of protein when it comes to obesity, he said. “Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease — they’re all driven by diet, and we have to use what we’re learning to bring them under control,” said Raubenheimer.

Diets Higher in Protein May Make You Feel Less Hungry

“I find the concept of ‘protein hunger’ to be an interesting one, but I do think that we need to tailor this to fit the individual,” said Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH. She is an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an obesity medicine physician-scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. However, she was not part of the study.

According to her, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” in terms of protein requirements. This may differ between 10 and 35 percent of the total amount of calories consumed. “However, we do know that higher-protein diets, on average, do lead to better satiety, which then leads to less consumption,” she explained.

A Higher Protein Diet Does Not Equate to Needing More Meat

Stanford hones in on the idea of a high protein diet and how this has become the cornerstone of many of the popular diets, included here are Atkins and the ketogenic diet. However, people react to diets differently. They all have a unique macronutrient requirements (such as protein, fats, and carbs) and these diets need to be designed individually if they want the best method to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, she said.

“Also, it’s important to note that a higher protein diet doesn’t necessarily mean higher animal protein in the diet. Protein comes from variety of sources, including animals, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables,” stated Stanford.