Chicken Eggs in an Egg Box

Protein Leverage Coming at Us

Are we doomed to complete the full cycle of macronutrient obsession? First it was fat. Starting in the 1980s fat was at the root of all our dietary woes. Next came carbs. Low carb and keto diets are still a hot topic of discussion and debate among folks who are certain they have the answer for dietary health. But now it looks like protein leverage may be coming our way to finish the circle.

Nothing to Sniff At

Three papers devoted to this subject in the August issue of Obesity tell us that this idea is nothing to dismiss lightly.

First, David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson present an overview of the theoretical foundation for protein leverage. It’s not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, they say. But it is pretty clear that diets with a low proportion of energy from protein can lead to excessive energy consumption. In other words, if you’re not eating enough protein, your body will prompt you to keep going and overeat everything else until you give it all the protein it wants. That observation is what this leverage thing is all about. Taking it to the logical next step, the protein leverage hypothesis holds that this relationship can explain at least part of the rise in obesity we’ve seen.

Next, Kevin Hall models the potential for the protein leverage hypothesis to account for our epidemic of obesity. He concludes that it likely doesn’t explain the full extent of the epidemic. But the data at hand is sufficient to suggest that it can’t be dismissed altogether.

Finally, Cristal Hill and Christopher Morrison tie it all together. Bottom line, they conclude that protein leverage is one of many factors that can explain why we have an obesity epidemic. It’s neither a singular answer nor is it something that’s easily dismissed.

The Next Big Thing?

Self-appointed nutrition gurus keep looking for a singular explanation for obesity and ways to overcome it. As low carb dogma starts to wear thin, protein may well be gaining traction with that crowd.

As a matter of fact, we’ve already gone a little nuts with protein. Want a protein bar? You can get it at the candy counter or at a restaurant dedicated to the concept. Protein Cheerios? Ready and waiting for you. Protein cookies? You bet.

The only hope we see in any of this is that after completing the full circle from fats to carbs to protein, maybe consumers can settle down a bit. You think?

Click here for the review by Raubenheimer and Simpson, here for the analysis by Hall, and here for the commentary by Hill and Morrison. For further perspective from Quartz, click here.

Chicken Eggs in an Egg Box, photograph © Marco Verch

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July 24, 2019

4 Responses to “Protein Leverage Coming at Us”

  1. July 24, 2019 at 7:13 am, Al Lewis said:

    This is a head-scratcher. Most Americans get way more protein than they need. And those Americans at risk for not getting enough — vegetarians and vegans — are less likely to be overweight or obese. I predict an early demise for this hypothesis.

  2. July 24, 2019 at 10:48 am, Mary-Jo said:

    There’s a difference between a very high protein diet like those that induce ketosis where only 15-20 grams of carbohydrate is allowed versus a diet where the macronutrient skew is higher in protein, say 15-20% Protein than the recommended 55%CHO, 10%Protein, 35%Fat. From my 40+years of working as a dietitian, I have seen people experience greater satiety with 15-20% protein, still eat carbs and fat, and have a greater tendency to not overeat than with diets with either a higher carb or fat skew. So, I hope these studies don’t produce headlines extolling the ketogenic and very high protein type diets.

  3. July 24, 2019 at 11:09 pm, mike said:

    Seems kinda silly to compare to the low fat and low carb trends you talk about, because both of those are about trying to have LESS of fat and then carbs, where this is having MORE of protein.

    Food that is higher in protein, fiber, and water content are all likely , ceterus parabus, to lead to lower weight as they are more satiating and take up more volume and are less hyperpalatable and calorically dense than fatty, high simple carb foods.

    Just having a hard time seeing the slant of this article criticizing focusing on more protein.

  4. July 26, 2019 at 6:12 am, Michael Jones said:

    Just to help clarify, Mary’s post implies that high protein diets are responsible for ketosis. The ketogenic diet, unlike the Atkin’s diet, is not high protein. Rather, it’s high fat, moderate protein – which may be in line with what these articles suggest.