Protein and weight management

Protein-rich foods tend to make people feel fuller than foods rich in carbohydrates or fat. So including a lean source of protein with a meal can help to minimise feelings of hunger and decrease overall energy intake.

Some studies have shown protein-rich diets with a low carbohydrate content to be associated with slightly greater initial weight loss compared with widely recommended low fat eating programmes. However, no differences have generally been reported when comparisons have been made over a longer duration (e.g. after 12 months). Long-term studies are needed to compare the effects of protein-rich, low carbohydrate diets versus low fat diets on nutritional status and body composition and to assess their effects on disease risk and nutritional status.

Some popular high protein, low carbohydrate diets claim to be effective at producing weight loss despite a high fat intake from fatty meats and full fat dairy products. Such a diet remains contradictory to current healthy eating messages. Regardless of the composition of the diet, weight loss will only occur if a deficit in energy intake compared to output through activity is created to achieve a negative energy balance. There are also safety concerns about very-high-protein diets that involved cutting out other food groups and caution should therefore be exercised in promoting them.

When reducing energy intake in order to lose weight, it will be necessary to reduce intake of some foods but it is a good idea to maintain intake of low-fat, protein rich foods. In the context of a lower energy intake, this will result in a relatively high proportion of energy coming from protein in the diet, but will not represent an increase in the absolute amount of protein consumed or require the other food groups to be cut out of the diet.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk

Last reviewed October 2012. Next review due October 2015