If I asked you to name the macronutrient that's best for weight loss--carbohydrates, fats, or proteins--odds are that you'd ponder it for a second and then respond, "protein." I suspect that this is because the two major opposing forces in the last 20 years to the low fat craze have been Atkins and Paleo, which most people have implemented through a high-protein lifestyle. But I'm not here to debate the merits of any of these particular diets; instead, I want to discuss protein and an important gene that may hide the clue to your personal key to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight long-term.
We need protein. Like fat (and unlike carbohydrates), it's an essential nutrient that we must get through out diet. It forms the building blocks of basically every enzyme, cell, or tissue in our body. Our muscles are the protein 'storehouse', and if we don't eat enough protein, our body will call up some of these reserves and supple the deficit. The question, though, is how much protein do you need, and does this have a meaningful bearing on your ability to lose and maintain weight?
To help answer this, let's look at one of the most depressingly-nicknamed genes out there: FTO, the 'Obesity Gene.' First, before you get too excited, there's no one gene that controls obesity or weight gain. It's complex, and it's the combination of over 100 hormones that drive sour weight status. But back in the days of genetic research after we finished mapping the human genome (in the early 2000s), however, there was crazy excitement that maybe, just maybe, the FTO gene would provide the 'cure to obesity!'
In fact, it does appear true statistically that, if you have a particular version of this gene, the (A;A) allele result on SNP rs9939609, you're 70% more likely to be obese--which is a pretty significant statistic. And if you have this version, which isn't uncommon, you probably want all the help you can get being one of the 30%, not the 70%!
Here's where evolution is fantastic and why understanding your person genetics is so powerful. It also turns out that, if you have the (A;A) version of the 'Obesity Gene', one of the keys to optimising your weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight is consuming 25%-35% of your calories as protein. This is a lot more protein than nutrition experts normally recommend to people! The standard recommendation is typically in the range of 10%-15% of calories from protein. And this means two things: 1) a lot of people who need more protein for optimal health aren't getting enough; and 2) a lot of people who need less protein for optimal health are eating way to much. Because I'm sure you know a few people who eat protein like they're stocking up for the apocalypse.
There are lots of reasons why eating too much protein for your personal requirements isn't healthy, but let's just discuss this in relation to weight loss. Over-consumption of protein causes insulin spikes just like over-consumption of carbohydrates does. And this cycle is associated with weight gain. It prevents us from switching on our fat burning capabilities.
So, if you want to stoke your fat-loss engine, look at getting your protein consumption into your personal sweet spot. Find out what your FTO gene says about you, and then also look at what forms of protein will be most appropriate for you. Are you prone to inflammation? Look at balancing animal protein with vegetarian protein and making sure your animal protein is grass-fed and organic (or, gasp, become vegan!) Do you have a high carbohydrate sensitivity? Maybe 100% vegetarian won't be quite appropriate for you.
And don't forget, your personal sweet spots for fats and carbohydrates also play a role in optimal weight loss and a healthy weight, but those are topics for another article. :)
If you're interested in finding out more about your personal protein requirements and what version of the FTO gene you have, take a look at my genetic nutrition programmes, which include a quick mouth-swab DNA test, or book in a free chat to speak with me 1:1!
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