While bariatric patients hear over and over again about the importance of protein following weight loss surgery, many are unaware of why it matters so much. This lack of awareness can be a barrier to comply with recommended protein intake requirements, which can interfere with both weight loss and wellness. Here’s a closer look at the protein imperative for weight loss patients.
While the guidelines may vary depending on the doctor and/or patients, the rule of thumb for protein intake for bariatric patients is usually 60 to 90 grams a day. Unfortunately, many patients fail to reach this target.
Protein performs a number of functions that are essential to life. Without protein, our muscles, organs and immune systems are unable to do their jobs. Ultimately, protein is the reason that our bodies perform the way they do. Therefore, when we fail to get enough protein, our bodies feel it. Over time, insufficient protein can lead to increasingly dangerous consequences.
One of the more immediate outcomes of not getting enough protein is loss of skeletal muscle mass as the body attempts to procure the amino acids found in protein. Purdue University professor of nutrition science Wayne Campbell told Time magazine, “When forced to make a choice, your body will take amino acids from your skeletal muscle in order to supply your heart and some other organs … This leads to physical weakness and difficulties balancing and lifting objects, and eventually to frailty.”
While protein is important for everyone, it’s particularly vital for weight loss patients. For starters, because weight loss patients are more limited in terms of their daily calorie intake, they’re less likely to consume enough protein. Considering that protein is associated with weight loss and weight regulation in several key ways, including satiety, this is a problematic phenomenon from a bariatric perspective.
According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “There is a potential practical benefit associated with higher-protein diets that directly addresses one of the key areas linked to failed weight loss strategies: compliance. Groups consuming a moderate-carbohydrate, high-protein diet have an increased likelihood of maintaining weight loss at 12 months and beyond, with improvements in cardiovascular risk factors and minimal risk of side effects.”
In other words, a high-protein diet has been directly linked with better long-term weight loss.
But eating more protein not only makes weight loss more likely, it also makes it easier — a fact worth noting for weight loss patients who have in the past struggled with making health(ier) choices.
“Although there is general agreement that permanent weight reduction is difficult to achieve with radical diet and lifestyle changes, long-term adherence to a moderately higher-protein, energy-controlled diet may represent a feasible lifestyle adaptation and be more likely to result in improved weight loss and management,” continues the article.
“Foods of high biological value are encouraged (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, etc.). WLS [Weight loss surgery] patients who cannot meet their protein needs from food alone may benefit from supplementation of high-quality protein.”
Telling bariatric patients they need to eat more protein isn’t enough. Rather, dietitians can help their clients meet their daily protein requirements by providing them with actionable tips, including the following:
While protein supplements may be necessary in the early post-operative liquid stage, they’re not recommended for life. Writes Kimberly Mahoney, MS, RD, LDN, for the Obesity Action Coalition, “Foods of high biological value are encouraged (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, etc.). WLS [Weight loss surgery] patients who cannot meet their protein needs from food alone may benefit from supplementation of high-quality protein.” Again, this is where meal replacement options like Achieve can be especially helpful.
Ultimately, people pursue bariatric surgery not just to lose weight, but also toward the larger goal of getting healthy. Meeting daily protein intake requirements is essential to both of these outcomes. Nutritionists and dietitians can help their weight loss patients maximize protein for weight loss and overall health by increasing their awareness of its many benefits.