High protein diet image by Fotolia
High protein diet image by Fotolia

The weight-loss industry has a new pill or tool for us to try every day, it seems but what if the one thing that works the best is something in your kitchen right now? Turns out, that may very well be the case. Protein has been proven to be one of the key nutrients to healthy and sustainable weight loss. So instead of taking away something, the secret to your weight loss may be to add something!.

Here are eight reasons you should make sure youre getting enough of the powerhouse nutrient protein if losing pounds and keeping them off is your goal:

1. It boosts your metabolism.

When trying to lose weight, one of the first things you typically do is cut calories. Ironically, when your body senses a sudden decrease in caloric intake, it actually slows down your metabolism to save energy which is the exact opposite effect you want. This is whats known as starvation mode. The best way to deal with this is by working with your bodys nature instead of against it. Instead of cutting so many calories, replace some of them with protein. 100 calories of fat don’t fuel you the same way 100 calories of protein does so try tossing back a few nuts or cheese and see the difference in your diet for a few days.

2. It keeps you fuller longer.

Along the same lines of boosting your metabolism, protein helps you stay fuller for longer periods of time than carbs or fat will. This happens naturally because protein actually slows down your digestion so you wont be as likely to go back for another helping and blow your diet.

3. It burns more calories.

Yes, you read that correctly. This effect is thanks to the protein having a higher TEF, or thermal effect of foodwhich means our body actually burns more calories processing protein than it does when processing carbs or fat. When you take in 100 calories of fat, your body burns around eight calories to consume it. However, when you take in 100 calories of protein, your body burns around 30 calories! So youre actually burning more calories by eating protein alone!

4. It helps with cravings.

Eating protein next to your carbs actually helps you not crave more of those foods that are high in carbs. How? It actually slows down the rate at which your body absorbs the sugar from your stomach into your blood and this helps ward off those sugar rushes and crashes. Protein also increases the levels of the appetite-reducing hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, while reducing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin! So youre fighting your cravings from a metabolic level with protein.

5. It burns fat.

Science shows that our body needs helps from either a carbohydrate or protein in order to burn and use fat as energy. When we lose weight, our body actually burns fat and muscle to fuel itself, meaning you may be losing muscle inadvertently! Thankfully, having extra protein in our diet helps ensure that our body will burn more of the fat and less of the muscle. So make sure that youre packing on the protein to save your lean muscle and get rid of more fat!

6. It helps your muscles grow.

Just like Popeye with his spinach, protein helps your muscles repair and grow after intense exercise. The pairing of strength training and protein intake can reduce muscle loss and metabolic slowdown, so theyre two very important components to losing weight. Use this tip to your advantage by keeping protein bars in your gym bag for an after-workout snack that will help your body recover quicker.

7. It keeps you healthy.

An unfortunate side effect of dieting is that it weakens your immune system. However, protein contains antibodies which are our bodys way to fight bacteria, toxins, viruses, and cancer cells, so an increase in protein is also an increase in your bodys defense. Also, when our body breaks down protein, it produces adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is what provides energy for activities such as exercise.

8. Its easy to find.

Protein is found in a variety of foods making it easy to add to every snack and meal. The best sources of protein are found in animals and dairy, not necessarily protein shakes. Think cottage cheese, red meat, milk, eggs, fish, chicken, and pork. For an easy snack that you can toss in your bag, reach for nuts and seeds. If youre vegan, using whey protein is still a good option to get your protein. And if youre still struggling to get enough protein, taking a protein supplement may also be a good idea for you. Just make sure youre choosing a high-quality protein. Studies show that just replacing your bagel with two eggs in the morning can boost your weight loss by 65 percent!

As you can see, protein is the unsung hero of weight loss and it could very likely be the missing key ingredient that your body has been craving. A healthy diet will include more than just protein, though, so be sure to have small amounts of carbohydrates and healthy fats to go along with your proteins. Ideally, protein should account for 20% of your total calories for the day. If you need help hitting this goal, download the MyFitnessPal app which automatically sets your protein goal at 20% of your calories based on your height and weight.

Getting enough protein in your diet is vital to healthy weight loss and it will help you keep those pounds off longer, so make sure that youre including this powerhouse nutrient in every meal and snack for the best results.