Weight loss is a stressful process that demands a lot of out of you. While unfortunately there are no secret foods that can single-handedly make any significant difference in your ability to successfully lose weight and keep it off, there are two relatively broad groups of food that may just be essential to your success. Dietary protein sources and fibrous fruits and vegetables are absolutely two key tools to focus on when creating your weight loss plan and understanding exactly how to utilize them may determine if you will successfully and sustainably transform your body composition towards a healthier state. Our goal is to help you create an understanding of why these two fundamental food groups are able to help you create weight loss progress, what roles they play in everyday human health, and how to focus on what actually matters when you are seeking body transformation. We should obviously start by clarifying what we define weight loss success is before illustrating exactly why simply focusing on dietary protein and fibrous vegetables can make such a significantly positive impact on your chances of weight loss success.
When we are talking about sustainable weight loss, what we are really talking about is creating conditions that allow you to lose the most amount of fat mass, while losing the least amount of lean body mass (muscle). Losing weight can be a relatively straightforward endeavor, but doing so in a manner that allows you to retain muscle, preserve your resting metabolic rate, and keep the weight off down the road is a bit more difficult. This transformation process will unquestionably require that you prioritize getting enough quality sleep, that you at least try to manage chronic stress levels, and do your best to eat intelligently and do so consistently. Appropriately performed resistance training can also play a crucial role in convincing your body to spare muscle mass while you are consistently in the dreaded calorie deficit that is required for weight loss. Each of these tactics helps to fulfill two main objectives that will make the odds of you successfully completing your weight loss journey much higher.
- Lose fat, but not muscle.
- Make the process as easy and sustainable as possible for yourself.
Food Group #1: Protein
Clearly a departure from the flawed food pyramid method of dividing food groups, this first category characterized by protein can be one of your greatest tools to achieving and sustaining weight loss. Protein is a macronutrient – meaning that you need to get it in your diet in quite large quantities on a daily basis or you will slowly break down like an old car without oil. Your body uses the diverse amino acids that make up proteins to maintain muscle tissue, create certain hormones, and assemble other proteins which perform quite literally countless other roles throughout every cell of the human body. In the more narrow realm of weight loss however, the most important reason to eat enough protein every day is to help fight off the atrophy or shrinking of muscle that will occur in order to spare energy, or calories. During most of human existence, the ability to shrink our extremely calorically-expensive muscle tissue was an absolute lifesaver during periods of scarcity. In modern times however, this shrinking of muscle tissue results in a lower resting metabolic rate (how much energy you need just to keep the lights on), likely less activity (resulting in less calories “burned” throughout the day), and a greater chance of gaining lost weight back in the future. As you might expect, higher protein diets have been shown in research to prevent this decline in resting metabolic rate – a benefit which cannot be overemphasized for someone seeking permanent weight loss.
Another benefit of prioritizing eating protein rich foods for weight loss is that high protein foods require a relatively significant percentage of their available energy just to be digested and absorbed. This is known as the thermic effect of food or TEF. High protein foods require between 20-30% of their total calories to be digested – foods that are primarily fat and carbohydrates require significantly less energy to be absorbed (5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats). What this means is that you will expend more energy (calories) to process protein-rich foods than any other macronutrient. As if we needed anything more to add to the list of the benefits waiting to be reaped from prioritizing protein-rich foods, they also produce a greater feeling of satiety.
Making the process of weight loss easier on yourself can mean many things, but one of the most obvious is to reduce subjective feelings of hunger. When you restrict calories to lose weight, many internal homeostatic mechanisms kick in to increase your drive to eat food. This was once a motivating tool for survival – now, it has become the bane of many dieter’s existence. Understanding this mechanism to prevent starvation may allow you to appreciate protein’s ability to suppress appetite even more. According to a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition there is substantial evidence to support a high protein diet for treating obesity – through creating reductions in fat mass, preserving lean mass, and modulating appetite and energy metabolism. This satiation effect of protein is most closely shared by another group of nutrients known collectively as fiber. Largely the focus of our next food group to help with weight loss, the various forms of fiber serve many functions throughout the body – but the phytonutrition in fibrous fruits and vegetables, along with the ability to aid in appetite control are perhaps the main reasons for including them in the top two foods to help with weight loss.
Food Group #2: Fibrous fruits and vegetables
Fiber can simply be thought of simply as the part of plant foods we can’t digest, and although most people are aware that it is important, that tends to be where the awareness of this versatile nutrient begins and ends. Some of this limited view surrounding fiber is due to the fact that there are many different forms of fiber, and may also be due in part to the scarcity of it in the average adult’s diet. In the United States, the average adult gets roughly one-half of the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber daily from their diet (low-carb/keto dieters are usually even worse). This fact is rather concerning when you consider the fact that the various forms of fiber serve to promote proper digestion and elimination, feed the beneficial bacteria that live within our large intestine, and it just so happens the foods that contain substantial amounts of fiber tend to be nutritious in more ways than one.
Fiber intake has been studied extensively for its impact on a mechanistic level, all the way up to the epidemiological or population level. The support for dietary fiber intake preventing obesity exists at every one of these levels. Fiber intake has been found to be inversely associated with body weight and body fat – generally, the more fiber a person consumes, the less likely they are to be obese or overweight. Fiber is certainly playing less of a causative role in this protective effect, although it certainly has a more direct role in creating a healthy, fit, and anti-fragile human. Still, we can look to direct intervention studies which have generally found that the addition of dietary fiber decreases food intake, which creates a calorie deficit resulting in weight loss. At this point fiber hopefully seems like an obvious focus of your weight loss diet plan. It seems a review published in the journal Nutrients confirmed this notion when they concluded that a fiber rich diet may beneficially influence all parameters of body weight management and metabolic disorders related to obesity.
Alright, so you know now why we believe both fiber and protein to be excellent tools you should include in your nutritional strategy if you are looking to lose weight, and keep it off for good. You can easily incorporate these nutrients into your daily eating plan by building most of your meals around a protein source and few servings of fibrous fruits and vegetables. That doesn’t mean that all fruits and veggies are great sources of fiber, but most of them are a great place to start with at least. Do some research to find which high-fiber options you like the most, and start from there. Creating well-established eating patterns that you can rely upon is a major step towards creating sustained diet success that will continue evolving as you do.
Your weight loss journey will be difficult, but you can make it a lot easier on yourself by sleeping well, lifting weights, managing stress, and of course…eating a nutritious diet full of protein and fiber!