Nutritionists and trainers often encourage people to eat more protein if they want to gain muscle. But new research shows an emphasis should be focused on protein for those people wanting to control their weight. That’s because researchers in Australia have found a direct link between the overconsumption of highly processed and refined foods and rising rates of obesity because those foods generally lack protein.
The study conducted by the University of Sydney found that people tend to overeat in an effort to satisfy their body’s desire for protein. And when they eat a lot of processed and refined foods, the result is excess weight gain.
Researchers studied the eating habits of more than 9,300 Australians for a year and concluded processed foods are the leading contributor to rising obesity rates. The results were published in the journal Obesity and confirm what the lead scientists dubbed the “Protein Leverage Hypothesis.” That states that people tend to overeat fats and carbohydrates in search of what their body really needs, which is protein.
"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 lead author Dr. Amanda Grech.
"It's increasingly clear that our bodies eat to satisfy a protein target," said Professor David Raubenheimer. "But the problem is that the food in Western diets has increasingly less protein. So, you have to consume more of it to reach your protein target, which effectively elevates your daily energy intake.
"Humans, like many other species, have a stronger appetite for protein than for the main energy-providing nutrients of fats and carbohydrates. That means that if the protein in our diet is diluted with fats and carbohydrates, we will eat more energy to get the protein that our bodies crave."
Researchers found the mean food consumption percentages of the study participants was just 18.4 percent protein. The rest was 43.5 percent from carbohydrates, 30.9 percent from fat, 4.3 percent from alcohol and 2.2 percent from fiber.
When they looked closer at the data they found a pattern that matched what they expected to find based on their Protein Leverage Hypothesis. Those who had lower amounts of protein during their first meal of the day increased their overall food intake the rest of the day while those who had the most protein during their first meal declined their food intake throughout the day.
Study participants with a lower proportion of protein than recommended during their first meal ate more energy-dense foods that were high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and alcohol throughout the day, instead of healthier options like vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, dairy and meat.