What is the protein leverage hypothesis?

Plus: Recipes that will set you up for success as we close out the year.

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"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

- Hippocrates

Thursday. So, what did we learn from yesterday’s email? People feel VERY strongly about plant-based foods—for or against them. To clarify—veggies are great. They are packed with fiber and essential nutrients our bodies need. Animal products are also great. The key takeaway from yesterday’s email was that balance is key, and plants alone won’t do the trick. Now that we have addressed that, let’s talk about a possible explanation for why we tend to overeat processed foods. Let's dive in.

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Are We Just Looking For More Protein? 

Why do we tend to overconsume processed foods? I mean, we’ve all been there. On days when we eat most foods that come out of a package or from a fast food restaurant, we tend to eat more. Extend that over some time, and we gain weight. Extend that over a lifetime, and we will inevitably face chronic disease. 

But why is it so easy to overdo it when eating processed foods? Why does moderation feel impossible when it comes to Oreos, McDonald’s, and Starbucks frappes? 

One possible explanation is the protein leverage hypothesis.  This concept suggests that our tendency to overeat processed foods stems from needing more protein. The hypothesis posits that processed foods, rich in carbs and fats but lacking in protein, lead us to consume more calories in our effort to meet our protein needs. 

For example, reaching 100 grams of protein might require only 600-800 calories from whole, unprocessed foods, but over 2,000 calories if we try to get that protein from something like pizza.

Research does suggest that when our diet is made up of less protein, we tend to consume more calories. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the primary reason we reach for processed foods is us searching for more protein, but rather a craving for the dopamine response these foods trigger in our brains. It’s that response that often leads to addictive-like behaviors with processed foods. 

It's interesting to consider cultures with lower protein intakes, like the Okinawa diet, where protein comprises only about 9% of total calories. Unlike the average American man, who consumes about 16% of his calories from protein, Okinawans don't face obesity issues at the same rate. This discrepancy suggests that the drive to overeat is not necessarily a quest for more protein but perhaps due to the absence of processed foods in their diet.

In addition, it is important to note that protein intake in the United States has increased slightly since the 1970s, when obesity was less prevalent. This rise contradicts the notion that a lack of protein drives us to consume more calories.

Do you know what else has changed since the 1970s? Our access to processed foods and a general trend toward more sedentary lifestyles. 

All that being said, it's still crucial to recognize the role of protein in appetite control. Diets higher in protein have been linked to increased satiety, meaning people feel fuller and are less likely to snack or overeat. So, while protein is essential for building strength and muscle, its main benefit in the context of diet and weight management may lie in its ability to help control our appetite.

The key takeaway? While we tend to overeat processed foods, leading to weight gain and chronic disease, it's probably not something we are doing in an attempt to get more protein. Instead, the desire for the dopamine rush from calorie-dense, processed foods drives this behavior. 

Understanding this distinction is crucial in addressing overeating and managing dietary habits for better health. Can more protein in your diet help manage your weight? Yes. Is it more important to avoid processed foods that lead to addictive behavior, regardless of how much protein you are getting in your diet? Also, yes.   

Tonic Shots

1. High Protein In A Salad!

This honey mustard chicken salad is a winner! Enjoy!

2. The Perfect Appetizer For New Year’s Eve!

If you are going to a New Year’s party, this is the appetizer you should bring. Protein, delicious, and fancy! Ring in the New Year feeling your best!

3. Sweet Potato Muffins?

YES—we said sweet potato muffins. A muffin is still a muffin, but this is. a great DIY alternative if you are looking for something a bit more healthy. Enjoy!

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