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The Power of Protein

The Power of Protein

You may ask yourself:  What’s the big fuss about protein?  Well, I will give you the scoop on this powerful nutrient.  Protein is a macronutrient which simply means “large nutrient” that provides calories. The mighty protein has many more important functions in the human body than just providing calories, especially for someone who undergoes bariatric surgery.  

First, protein is necessary for proper wound healing which is crucial after surgery.  All of the other benefits AND necessity relate to the weight loss period after surgery.  Adequate protein during weight loss protects and maintains your lean muscle mass (fat free mass) while promoting lipolysis which is the breakdown of fat.  Why should you care about this?  Lean muscle mass has a higher resting metabolic rate compared to fat mass.  So this means your body burns more calories at rest and therefor increases your metabolism and weight loss.  An increase in lean mass and decrease in fat mass also improves your overall body composition and physique.  Research shows the consumption of protein can improve satiety (the feeling of fullness) and suppress hunger hormones (enough said).   Also, research suggests that protein intake may help improve blood sugar levels.

Now I’m sure most people know there are a variety of foods that provide protein, but not all are created equal.  There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete.  As you can guess, the complete proteins are a higher quality protein because they are digested and absorbed more efficiently in the body compared to incomplete proteins.  Animal protein and select protein supplements are considered complete proteins.

Research recommends eating protein at all three meals including breakfast to stop the overnight fasting period (start your metabolism) and prevent hunger between meals.  Research also recommends eating protein first before any other food item.  Lean animal meat is the preferred protein source to eat at meals.  Animal protein also provides other nutrients like iron, zinc and thiamin.  Skinless “white” meat provides the highest protein with the fewest calories and fat.  Examples include chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, pork loin and pork tenderloin.  Research shows that complete protein supplements need to be one of the following: milk, whey or casein (both from milk), or soy.  Vegetable protein and other vegetable based protein supplements are incomplete proteins.  Complete protein shakes provide a great way to supplement the diet without adding extra carbohydrates and fat if you make the right choice (read labels hint hint).

Let’s recap:  Protein assists wound healing after surgery, increases lean muscle mass, and decreases fat mass.  The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.  Protein can suppress hunger and can help improve blood sugar levels.  The bottom line is that protein provides so many valuable benefits that it is impossible to avoid.

Jennier Clark MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

Source: Buffington, Cardeal, Faria, et al. Dietary Protein Intake and Bariatric Surgery Patients: A Review. Obes Surg (2011) 21:1798-1805.

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