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Low-Fat & High Protein: Not What You Think

Many people will run for the hills when the words high-protein are put in the same sentence as low-fat. But why?

Since high-protein diets became popular decades ago, they’ve been in the spotlight for researchers all over the Western world. In recent years, however, they have been scrutinized for issues relating to insulin resistance and increases in cholesterol, if the diet was continued as a long-term solution.

The problem is when researchers take findings out-of-context and blow them out of proportion. Naturally, if protein sources are not ideal and consumed in excess, this will lead to health issues. Everything taken to an extreme can be detrimental to a person’s health.

If we research high-protein today, we’ll see many studies that conclude that a higher protein intake, when paired with exercise, can offer certain metabolic benefits.

What does a high protein diet look like?

When we’re discussing high protein, we’re not talking about eating animal meats in excess.  In fact, a high protein diet, which is generally relatable to low carb, is a diet that consists of approximately 30 to 40% of calories from protein.  Studies have shown by increasing protein from 10% of diet to approximately 30% of diet has many benefits. Satiety levels are increased, your daily and nightly metabolic rate increases, and your body oxidizes fat at a better rate.  There is also a benefit to your ghrelin and leptin hormone levels.  

These hormones are involved in your hunger and satiety. Ghrelin, a hormone that is predominantly produced in the stomach, increases appetite.  When these levels are high, your body can’t seem to feel full, even after a big meal. Leptin, on the other hand, is produced from fat cells and signals the body to eat.  High levels of leptin trigger your body to be hungry more often.

When people lose weight, the fat cells tend to release more leptin, making them hungrier with a desire to eat more food.  Here’s where the magic of a high protein diet comes in. A diet consisting of roughly 30% protein or more, can help to increase ghrelin and lower leptin levels.  Meaning that you will be less hungry and feel fuller, faster.

Adding “low-fat” to the mix simply means to reduce total fat intake to about 30% of daily calories.  As with any diet, substituting macronutrients should always be focused on high quality, nutrient dense foods.  “Low fat” foods are not necessarily the solution. Foods that have been altered to become low fat, such as yogurts and cheeses, are usually filled with fillers, flavors and even sugars as a substitute.  In fact, “taste” resides in fat cells. Remove the fat, remove the taste.

What’s a good alternative? Eat real foods, with their natural fat content, within a certain portion size. Fats consumed should always be good quality fats such as coconut oil, salmon, nuts and nut butter – which would naturally lower your fat intake overall. It can also be useful to compare future eating habits with your current eating habits to know if you’ll benefit and if the change is sustainable.

An example would be this: The typical Western diet involves around 70-80% animal products and only 20-30% plant-based products.  With this type of food intake, you are likely to have a diet high in the wrong fats – your fat intake should be a specific balance of fatty acids that favor omega-3s (due to the lack of them in our nutrition). By lowering your intake of the wrong fats while keeping healthy fats, you’ll be eating more low-fat as opposed to an unhealthy “high-fat” option.

Protein: The Low Down

Protein is an incredibly essential macronutrient in our diets. From helping build muscles and repair tissue to the production of new cells, hormones, enzymes, and more, it has endless benefits.

“Great,” you’re thinking, “I can keep chowing down on my favorite double-bacon-cheeseburgers. After all, my body needs it!”

Actually, studies show that consuming a moderate amount of high-quality protein three times per day can stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than the common practice of eating a high protein evening meal.

Whether you’re trying to build lean muscle, reduce that waistline, or just feel better about what you’re putting in your body, a low-fat, high-protein diet is the way to go.  We’ll look at different high protein options but something else to consider is that substituting vegetable protein for animal protein reduces your risk for certain ailments, including your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Best Sources of Lean Animal Protein;

Poultry

Turkey is a fantastic source of protein, particularly turkey breast. To keep your sodium intake low, skid the deli aisle and go for roasted turkey breast, which is delicious on its own or in a variety of nutritious recipes. Chicken breast packs even more protein into every serving, though it will also tend to contain slightly more calories at the same time—however, it’s calorie count is still lower than most red meats!  Other than being high in lean protein, poultry is high in B vitamins include vitamin B12, biotin, folacin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin. The B vitamins are involved in many metabolic functions, including energy metabolism.

Fish and Seafood

Tuna is a great lean protein that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This goes for both the tuna in cans and raw tuna, which you can find in sushi restaurants. Unlike saturated fats—the kind your diet should limit—omega 3 is considered to be incredibly beneficial to the body. Other varieties of fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, also contain a good source of omega 3s.  Sole, cod, and tilapia (among other white fish) are also low-fat, high-protein diet-friendly. Besides being a great source of protein and omega 3s, fish is rich in vitamin D, calcium and other minerals such as zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.

Egg Whites

Eggs are just full of nutrition – however, the yolk happens to be where most of the calories are. Egg whites, on the other hand, are almost entirely protein. They also pack some serious nutrients like folate, selenium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  For the leanest version of this popular breakfast food, use only one yolk and increase your egg whites per serving.

Tofu and Tempeh

These are popular meat-and-egg substitutes amongst vegetarians and vegans alike, and for a clear reason—they are delicious sources of protein that are also low in fat! Try scrambled tofu or our stuffed tempeh mushrooms.

Edamame

These beans are the raw bean that is used to make tofu in all of its various forms.  Eating them this way keeps the processing to a minimum while maintaining their high protein content.  One cup of shelled edamame beans provide 17g of plant-based protein. Edamame (including tofu and tempeh) are very low in cholesterol and a good source of fiber, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.

Legumes

When looking at low carb options, legumes don’t necessarily make the cut.  However, for vegetarians and vegans, they make a great high fiber and high protein option.  Plus, their carbohydrates are low on the glycemic index. They are a good source of vitamin B, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.  Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans are examples of a good source of plant-based proteins.  One cup of legumes averages about 18g of low-fat protein.

 

Is the Paleo Diet Right For You?

The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is hugely popular. In a world full of fast food and convenient snacks, we could hardly be farther from the food our body is designed to use for nutrition. By focusing on a paleo diet, you can start to eliminate many of the high salt or sugary foods that can create havoc in your body. A diet heavy in processed, high-fat foods can be the cause of more than just weight issues. Many people also suffer headaches, sleep, and digestive issues from eating a diet filled with “unnatural” food choices.  By making a positive change in your diet, you can be on the road to a healthier, more balanced self.

What Is the Paleo Diet?

As mentioned before, this diet is meant to mimic the way our ancestors ate, which focuses on a hunter/gatherer concept. It allows for high protein food including meat, fish, eggs, as well as maintaining low-fat foods such as fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Off-limit foods include potatoes, sugar, legumes, grains, dairy, salt and any processed food.

HIGH FAT VS. HIGH PROTEIN PALEO

High fat is very trendy right now.  With the movement of eating a more ketogenic diet, many people are increasing their daily fat content at the sacrifice of other macronutrients.  Is this “bad”? Our main concern with high-fat diets is the quality of the fat. Unless you are eating copious amounts of nuts and avocados, chances are that you are increasing your fat intake with choices that are less than ideal.

In fact, in our attempt to research ketogenic diets, we’ve come across recommendations for cream cheese, heavy cream along with bacon and bacon fat. Studies show that these kinds of saturated fats can only increase your risk of various diseases long term.  

We understand that fat, when coming from a mono or polyunsaturated food source, is relatively neutral to the body.  And, as always, depending on your current and long-term health goals, you will adjust your intake of protein/carbs/fats accordingly.  Choosing healthy fats like walnuts, avocados, salmon, olives and their relatives can be beneficial to a long-term health strategy. And with a Paleo lifestyle, you can easily focus on whole foods that will give you beneficial fats.  

When looking to lose weight, managing blood sugar levels is crucial.  Carbohydrates can cause significant fluctuations depending on the source of the carbohydrate.  Fat has been thought of as neutral to blood sugar.  Meaning that it doesn’t cause spikes or dips in your blood sugar levels when metabolized.  However, studies are showing that a high protein diet can better manage your blood sugar metabolism and is more effective in long-term weight loss and health.

With this information in mind, what’s best for you?  At Low Fat Low Carb, we really believe in becoming a detective in your own health.  There’s nothing stopping your from firstly, adopting a more Paleo lifestyle as a means to eliminate unhealthy carbs.  Once you’re comfortable with this change, you can start tracking the different balance of fat and protein. See how you feel when you increase your protein evenly throughout the day or if you increase your fat content.  Note your changes in a food journal and track your progress. You will quickly learn which macronutrient energy source is best for you, your body and your goals.

Paleo is a Lifestyle

Although it may have the word “diet” in it, you can better understand the paleo diet as a lifestyle change. It isn’t meant to be a short-term diet.  Eating like your ancestors means giving up modern food, which comes with the luxury of convenience. When you can no longer rely on the microwave to heat up a pre-packaged dinner, this means that extra time and care goes into your food preparation. It will not only change the way you eat but will change your relationship with food, especially if you are switching from a heavy fat, high carb lifestyle. Luckily, paleo also means community building. There is a community of people online ready to welcome, encourage, and share with you their journey towards living Paleo.

Things to Keep In Mind

When making a big change to your diet and lifestyle, remember to be kind to yourself. Reducing your intake of high fat, sugar, and salty foods is a positive step for your health and wellbeing that can take time. Remember that it isn’t possible to eat exactly like a cave-person but that paleo is a great way to redirect and rethink your relationship with food. Although paleo emphasizes protein, be mindful of what your body’s needs are. Above all else, enjoy yourself. Connect with others who are prioritizing their health and lifestyle. Learn from your community and discover what works well for you.


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