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Three meals a day with higher protein curbs hunger for weight loss

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Higher protein diet

Small frequent meals are no benefit for appetite control, finds a new study. Weight loss is easier without the urge to snack. Researchers at Purdue University say eating 3 square meals a day that are high in lean protein can stave off hunger compared to eating smaller, more frequent meals. According to their study findings, eating low calorie foods but three larger meals with moderate protein is better advise for people trying to lose weight.

High protein diet lessens desire for food

Heather J. Leidy, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri who was a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue at the time of the study said, "We found that when eating high amounts of protein, men who were trying to lose weight felt fuller throughout the day; they also experienced a reduction in late-night desire to eat and had fewer thoughts of food."

Leidy says even though there is a trend for eating small frequent meals when trying to lose weight, their study showed eating 3 larger meals helped people feel full and decreased appetite. She also emphasizes the meals though larger were calorie restricted with portion control that is important for weight loss.

The study, published in the journal Obesity, was funded by the National Pork Board and the American Egg Board, and in addition to the Purdue Ingestive Behavior Research Center and National Institutes of Health's Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

Lean protein with each meal promotes satiety

Wayne W. Campbell, Purdue professor of foods and nutrition says, "Egg and lean pork products are good sources for protein, and if they are incorporated at meals when people do not normally consume protein, such as at breakfast and lunch, they may prove to be a nice strategy to control weight; promote satiety, which is the feeling of being full; and retain lean tissue mass, which is essential for people as they age."

For the study, 27 overweight or obese men were split into two groups and compared - one given high protein and the other normal protein diet. Leidy explains men were used in the study because they are not studied as often as women and they tend to eat more meat.

For twelve weeks, the men were asked to consume 750 calories less per day than normal, or about 2400 calories. The normal protein group consumed 14 percent of energy from protein, 60 percent from carbohydrate and 26 percent from fat. The high-protein group consumed 25 percent of energy from protein and 49 percent from carbohydrate with the same amount of fat.

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The high protein diet accounted for approximately 200 calories per meal that specifically included 25 percent of total protein intake from pork and 15 percent from egg products. The main sources of protein was from sausage made from vegetable proteins, egg substitute and Canadian bacon that the researchers say provided daily nutrition from amino acids.

Pork, chicken, beef, fish and eggs comprise much of the American diet, as opposed to legumes, beans and soy products that are also good sources of protein, explained Campbell.

"The studies have not been done to show the superiority of these proteins with comparable quantities consumed," he said. "What our studies are showing is that by increasing protein in the diet with these food products, the benefits of higher protein intake are noticeable."

The researchers tested eating frequency because of the belief that eating small frequent meals can lead to weight loss. Campbell says the Purdue study shows eating 3 larger meals a day is not a contributor to obesity or increased food consumption, He notes "...a growing consensus that these other dietary habits may not be accurately reported because obese and overweight people tend to conceal how frequently and how much they eat."

In the study, meals were divided up into eating three times a day, every five hours, or six times a day, every two hours. The authors say the higher protein group experienced greater fullness throughout the day, but there was no change in thoughts of food or daily hunger between the high and normal protein groups. The group asked to eat six meals a day had a hard time complying and noted it would be difficult to stop work to eat even a small meal.

The diet can also help older individuals maintain body mass with weight loss that is important for older adults. However, Campbell say women who consume protein from meat sources are at risk for osteoporosis. The authors say one of their goals is to help find ways for people to age successfully without the burden of obesity and loss of muscle mass.

The study authors found eating three high protein meals a day from lean meat and vegetables sources, as opposed to small frequent meals, leads to greater fullness throughout the day, less snacking and makes it easier to reduce calorie intake for weight loss.

Purdue University
"The Effects of Consuming Frequent, Higher Protein Meals on Appetite and Satiety During Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Men"
Heather J. Leidy, Minghua Tang, Cheryl L.H. Armstrong, Carmen B. Martin and Wayne W. Campbell