Are high protein diets really better than high pizza diets, if you’re eating the same number of calories? Are all calories created equal? In scientific terms, a calorie (also known as kilocalorie or kcal), is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. By that definition, chemically speaking, calories from fat, protein and carbs might be considered equal. When we consider the hormonal, physiological and psychological effect of various macronutrients, however, the results change.
More protein, less belly fat
Protein is a necessary building block for many hormones including serotonin, melatonin, growth hormone, thyroid hormone and dopamine. If we fail to get enough in our diet, we can experience mood disorders, memory loss, increased appetite and cravings, decreased metabolism, sleep disruption, muscle loss and weight gain. Protein triggers glucagon (which maintains normal levels of glucose in the blood while carbohydrates trigger insulin (your fat storing hormone). As you can see, two very different hormonal reactions. Protein also stimulates the release of Peptide YY from the gut, suppressing our appetite by acting on our feeding center in the hypothalamus. A protein-rich diet also helps to shed stubborn belly fat, according to a study published in Diabetes Care. Researchers compared a high-protein diet with a low-protein diet in 54 obese men and women with type 2 diabetes. Those on the high-protein diet had significantly greater reductions in total and abdominal fat mass and a greater reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Eat fat to lose fat
Every single cell membrane in our body is made up of fats. Fats also help us feel full and satisfied because of their effects on our appetite-controlling friends, leptin and CCK. They prevent cravings and actually help us to lose weight when we consume them in the right forms and amounts. Perhaps the most convincing evidence proving that we need to consume fat to lose fat comes from a team of scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine. Their research showed that old fat stored around the belly, thighs or butt cannot be burned off effectively unless we have new fat coming in from our diet or our liver. In a study of 65 obese adults at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, for example, one group added 90 grams (3 ounces) of almonds to a 1,000-calorie liquid diet; another group added complex carbohydrates like popcorn or baked potatoes. Both groups ate roughly the same number of calories and amount of protein, but the almond diet had more than double the fat, primarily healthy monounsaturated fat. Over 24 weeks, the people on the almond diet reduced their weights and body mass indexes by 18 percent compared with 11 percent in the carb group. Almost all the diabetic participants in the almond group were able to control their blood sugar on less medication, compared to only half of those in the carb group.