Why is the protein to carb ratio so important? Why do we harp on this stuff? If you’ve come into my office to see me you’ve heard me talk about the protein to carb ratio. The protein part is important for a number of different reasons.
Protein tends to be more satisfying. So, you tend to stay full for a longer period of time. It’s also harder to digest. Digestion is work your body has to do. Eating protein increases your metabolism. Protein increases a couple of hormones that help with weight loss. Those hormones are glucagon and growth hormone, and are stimulated by protein. Protein is really important after surgery because we want to make sure as you’re losing weight you are preserving lean body mass. It’s the combination of the protein and the exercise that helps do that.
The carb part is the antithesis of the protein side. The carbohydrate typically works against weight loss. It stimulates the hormone insulin. Insulin has multiple jobs. Its main job is trying to keep blood sugars normal. It also tells your body to store fat. In a weight loss program you want to be mobilizing fat. You want to keep insulin levels way down. One of the nice things about insulin is that it’s a hormone you have some control over. Most hormones you don’t have any control over. Insulin only goes up in response to blood sugar levels going up. You want to keep your carbohydrate lower and protein higher. Both of those things have nothing to do with calories. It doesn’t mean calories aren’t important. In a weight loss plan you need to be in a calorie deficit. But if we can manipulate hormones, sometimes that’s going to help with weight loss even more.
I’ve seen thousands of patients throughout my surgical career. You tend to figure out a few things. One thing I see the best weight loss occurs when people get their protein in the 90-100 gram range. It’s typically higher for men (120). With carbohydrate we see the best weight loss when carbs are below 50 grams a day. That’s where we get the protein to carb ratio of 2-1. Protein should be about twice as much as your carbohydrate. We typically see the best weight loss in that ratio. For any one individual the protein could be a little higher or lower. There is a limit to how much protein you should take in because at some point it drives your calories too high. There isn’t any limit to how low your carbohydrate should go. The lower the better. It’s just harder. There’s carbohydrate in lots of foods. The best foods that will keep those carbs as low as possible are generally going to be the colorful vegetables and salad stuff. Both of those are very low in carbohydrate. We literally don’t need to eat any carbohydrate. Your body actually does need some carbohydrate, but it can make the carbs. You don’t have to eat it. The lower your carb intake, the lower your insulin levels, and the easier it is to lose weight.
Every individual has what I call a “tipping point” with their carbohydrate. Most of our surgical patients are very sensitive to carbs. Often times when they drift up and get into that 70-80 gram range I see them start to struggle. Some of them have to be as low as 30 grams a day. Most of them do very well if they can keep it below 50 grams a day.
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