All About Using Protein as a Building Block for Weight Loss and Health

February 7, 2024
Webinar Q&A

View the Webinar Recording



Made up of chains of amino acids that are folded into specific structures

Roles in the body

  • Structural, such as in muscle and skin
  • Enzymatic to speed up reactions, like digestive enzymes such as lipase and protease to digest fats and proteins
  • Transport, such as hemoglobin to carry oxygen
  • Immune function, such as antibodies to defend against invaders
  • Hormones, such as insulin and glucagon to regulate blood sugar

Weight management

  • Slows stomach emptying and increases satiety
  • Supports lean muscle mass to maintain metabolism

Recommendations for Protein Consumption


  • 0.8 grams of protein per day per kg of body weight
  • 0.36 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight

Acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) 

  • Amount of protein based on long-term success with weight loss and health
  • 10-35% of total energy (calories) from protein

1 good source of protein per meal or snack

Nutritious Protein Sources

Fish and shellfish have omega-3 fatty acids

Reduced-fat dairy can have calcium and vitamin D

Chicken, turkey, and eggs have vitamins and minerals

Plant-based protein sources can have fiber, and they’re cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat

  • Soy and quinoa are complete proteins (they have all of the essential amino acids)
  • Beans, nuts, lentils, whole grains, seeds, and vegetables are not complete. Combine plant-based sources to achieve your protein requirements (complementary proteins)

Strategies for Adequate Protein

Meal planning: include a source of protein at most meals and snacks. Examples:

  • Oatmeal with fruit and cottage cheese
  • Salad with chickpeas, feta cheese, and vinaigrette dressing
  • Salmon with vegetables and brown rice
  • Hard-boiled egg and carrot sticks 

Plant-based proteins

  • Combine two different plant-based proteins to get all of the essential amino acids
  • Beans and brown rice, whole-wheat bread and peanut butter, lentil soup with barley and vegetables

Ways to swap healthier for less healthy protein

  • Try tuna, grilled chicken breast, and low-fat cheese for sandwiches instead of deli meats
  • Grill salmon, chicken breast, turkey burgers, or seitan instead of hot dogs, beef burgers, and sausages

Protein Concerns

Less healthy sources

  • Bacon, processed meats (deli meats, sausage, hot dogs), red meat (beef, pork)
  • Concerns: saturated fat, sodium, nitrates, TMAO

Overconsumption of animal protein long-term: concerns with kidney, liver, bone, and heart health

The body can only use about 30 grams of protein at one time for protein-specific functions. Excess is used as energy like fat and carbohydrates. 

Protein Supplements

Bars, shakes, powders

Functions: on-the-go meals and protein supplements


  • Too much protein
  • Excess calories, sugars, and carbohydrates
  • Replacing healthier whole foods

Health Coach Q & A

How does added good protein affect a high LDL?

Protein itself probably doesn’t directly affect LDL. However, using healthier protein sources to substitute for less healthy sources can help lower LDL. For example, to help lower LDL, you might choose fish, skinless chicken or turkey, tofu, beans, and other nutritious protein sources instead of fatty meats and chicken or turkey with skin.

These are some other choices to help lower LDL.

  • Increase physical activity (according to your provider’s recommendations)
  • Increase dietary fiber, such as from vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds
  • Replace butter and shortening with healthier fats like olive or canola oil
  • Keep losing weight
Are uncured no nitrite meats still on the bad list?

That’s a great question! No-nitrite, uncured meats should be okay, but there are a few warnings here.

One is that they often have fine print that says there are no nitrites or nitrates except for those naturally occurring in celery powder. Researchers suspect that these can also be carcinogenic, similar to sodium nitrate. You can check the list of ingredients to see if there is celery powder in the product.

The other issue is that they may still be as high in sodium and saturated fat as processed meats with sodium nitrate. You can check the nutrition facts panel to compare values between brands.

TMAO- does that include elk and venison?

The jury is still out on exactly how much TMAO your body produces when you eat elk and venison compared to beef and exactly how great the negative effects are, but elk and venison are red meats and they do lead to TMAO production.

How often should I limit beef per week/month

There probably isn’t a single threshold for beef consumption; in general, less is probably better. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and others suggest keeping red meat consumption to no more than 3 portions weekly for a total of no more than 12-18 ounces.

If you are going to eat 4 ounces of bacon a week, is it better to eat it all at once or better to use a little here and there to flavor your food?

That’s an interesting question! As long as the amount you have fits into your goals for calories and nutrients like saturated fat and sodium, it probably doesn’t matter whether you enjoy all of your bacon at once or spread it out throughout the week. 

Are there good vegetarian options? besides tofu and eggs...what are safe portions?

Plant-based (vegan) protein sources include the following.

  • Soy and soy products like edamame, tofu, and many meatless meat substitutes
  • ½ cup of cooked legumes like split peas, lentils, and beans like kidney, black, garbanzo (chickpeas), and lima beans
  • ½ cup of cooked quinoa and other whole grains
  • ½ ounce of peanuts, nuts, and seeds
  • Vegetables have some protein

Dairy and eggs have protein, too.

  • 1 cup of skim milk
  • ½ cup of low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1.5 ounces of low-fat or nonfat cheese
  • 1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt
What was the email address where we can get the recording of this?  I have not been getting the follow up after the video sessions.

Thanks for the question! We suggest checking your spam folder of the email address you use to register for the webinar.

We have the webinars posted at this link.

You can always email for help.

I consume 200-250 grams of protein daily. Does your body utilize it better if you spread the intake out over several meals and several hours or can you consume all of it in a couple of meals in a few hours and it will be utilized just as well?
The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For someone who weighs 300 lb., that’s a goal of 108 grams of protein per day.

A range of 200-250 grams of protein is about 40-50% of total calories from protein on a 2,000-calorie diet, or about twice recommended amounts. Because that amount is so high, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about recommendations and concerns like heart disease, kidney and liver risks, and bone health.

That said, let’s get to your question. Your body can only use about 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at one meal/snack. If you weigh 100 kg (220 lb.), that’s 40 grams of protein. Having more than that won’t do any more good than having those same calories from carbohydrates or fat. 

So, if you’re going to have 240 grams of protein in a day, and you want to maximize your utilization of amino acids, you might want to split your intake into 6 meals with 40 grams of protein in each.

Again, we suggest talking to your healthcare provider about this amount of protein. 

Is too much protein bad for your kidneys?

That's an important question. The answer isn't clear, but here's what we know. 

It seems likely that excess protein from animal sources over a long period of time may be harmful if you have a kidney condition. 

It seems likely that plant-based protein is less stressful on the kidneys. 

It's possible, but we don't know yet, that excessive animal-source protein may be harmful even for healthy kidneys.

What about added protein in, say, protein drinks (like the Fairlife protein drink)? Is this protein as useful/valuable as more ‘natural’ sources?

Added protein in shakes tends to be complete (has all of the essential amino acids) and easily absorbable. Common sources include whey, soy, pea, and egg proteins.

Regarding Fairlife milk, protein drinks, and nutrition shakes in particular, the source of protein in them is actually milk in concentrated form. It is a naturally occurring protein, and should be absorbed as well as regular milk. 

When thinking about Fairlife or any protein shake, remember that your body can only use about 30 grams of protein at once for protein-specific purposes. Any extra protein gets used as energy if you need it. Anything beyond that gets stored as fat.

Can you go back to the previous slide?

You can always check out the recording to see any slide again! 

How far can you be off your ideal amount of protein? How bad is it if you have too much?

As the webinar mentioned, the “ideal” amount of protein is a range, and not a specific blanket recommendation. A 160-lb person, for example, might need about 58 grams of protein daily based on the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance). Going by the upper limit of 35% according to the AMDR (Acceptable Macronutrient Range), that could be up to 140 grams daily. 

The effects of having “too much” may depend on how much, for how long, and from which sources. Having more than about twice the RDA (more than 0.72 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight) is probably more than most people would need, even athletes. 

Having this amount of protein over the course of months or years, and from animal-source proteins, could carry health risks for the liver, kidneys, and bones. Including fatty meats could raise heart disease and stroke risk.

There is no absolute number for grams of protein from which sources and for how long is safe. Current evidence suggests that limiting red meat and processed meats is probably best for long-term health, while plant-based proteins are likely safe.

What are the starchy veggies?

These are some starchy vegetables. 

  • 1 small potato or ½ cup of cooked potato
  • ½ small sweet potato or ½ cup of cooked sweet potato
  • ½ cup of corn or green peas
  • ½ cup of cooked parsnip
  • ¾ cup of cooked winter squash like kabocha, acorn, butternut, and pumpkin

They tend to be high in fiber, carbohydrates (starch), potassium, and other nutrients.

Please send this video, very helpful.

We send out a follow-up email within two days of each webinar. It includes a link to the recording of the webinar, as well as a summary of the main points and answers to the questions from the chat. 

Please check the email you used to register for the webinar, and please check your spam if you don't see the email!

Thoughts on the carnivore diet? I've been doing it for 6 months. Lost body fat, gained muscle and I feel great.

Congratulations on feeling great and improving your body composition! It is always nice to hear when someone finds a plan that works for them.

The carnivore diet includes animal-source foods like meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. It excludes plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

It likely helps people like you feel better because it can help with weight loss. On such a restrictive diet, you're almost sure to reduce calories and lose weight. 

These are some drawbacks of a carnivore diet.

  • It may be expensive. 
  • It can cause challenges when eating in social settings. 
  • It may become boring eventually. 

Long-term effects of a carnivore diet are not certain, but given the high amount of animal protein and fat, and the low amount of plant-based foods, these are some concerns. 

  • Higher risk for heart disease and stroke, including increased risk factors like high cholesterol. 
  • Increased risk for high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.
  • Higher risk for certain types of cancer. 
  • Higher risk for liver and kidney conditions. 
  • Higher risk for osteoporosis. 

With an extreme diet like the carnivore diet, it's best to tell your healthcare provider about your plans, and to follow their advice.

Are legumes OK on a regular basis?

Absolutely! In fact, the typical American might be better off eating legumes more often! They're a great source of nutrients like fiber and potassium, that many Americans are low in. The USDA suggests having about 3 cups of cooked legumes per week, or a half-cup serving most days.

Having legumes most days is a great idea for most people in terms of nutrition and weight loss. Plus, they taste great! 

What’s the benefit of complete protein?

Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Nine of the amino acids are essential in our diets. That means we need to eat them in our diets to get what our body needs.

A complete protein contains each of the nine essential amino acids. All animal-based proteins are complete; they include fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, meat, and poultry. Quinoa and soy are also complete proteins because they have all of the nine essential amino acids.

Some plant-based proteins are incomplete. They are missing one or more of the essential amino acids. However, by eating a variety of plant-based proteins daily, you can get all of the essential amino acids. That’s just as good as getting complete proteins!

if I'm eating 1500 calories a day, does it matter if I eat them in 2 meals rather than 3 meals?

That’s a great question! Ideally, we’d eat three or more small meals a day, at regular times. 

In real life, doing what works is best. Consider these questions.

  • Are you happy eating two meals a day?
  • Is that a sustainable and enjoyable pattern for you?
  • Are your energy levels good?
  • Are you eating nutritious foods?

If the answers to these questions are “yes,” then you’re probably doing fine.

Can you rate proteins in order of grams of protein but also low in sodium, sugar, and fat please? I need protein to feel full after a meal but I also have to watch sugar, fat, and sodium.

That’s a great question!

For sugar, the good news is that most protein sources don’t have sugar. The ones that have added sugars tend to be processed and easy to spot. Examples include flavored yogurt, some protein shakes, and some processed meats like ham.

For sodium, most animal-based sources of protein have some natural sodium, though not much. Fish, shellfish, chicken, and milk, for example, all have a bit of sodium. Plant-based sources like beans and lentils are naturally low in sodium; if you choose canned versions or soups, look for low-sodium products. Again, processed meats are highest in sodium; ham, turkey sausages, pepperoni, hot dogs, and other processed meats are high-sodium. Canned proteins like Vienna sausages are also high-sodium. Cheese tends to be high in sodium, though you can find low-sodium varieties.

For fat, lean proteins are best. Fish, shellfish, legumes, reduced-fat dairy products, egg whites, and skinless chicken are very low in fat.

So, overall, great choices are: fish, shellfish, egg whites, tofu, legumes (beans, lentils, and split peas), plain yogurt, skinless chicken, lean ground turkey.

Is there a conversion for grams to ounces?

There are 28 grams in an ounce, but we're guessing that's not what you're asking! 

We're assuming you mean a way to convert ounces of protein foods (like chicken or cheese) into the number grams of protein, the nutrient. 

There's no single conversion factor. The best way to find how many grams of protein (the nutrient) are in a serving of protein (the food) is to check the label or online. 

For example, a 3-ounce portion of chicken has 25 grams of protein, while a 3-ounce portion of ground beef has 18 grams of protein.

What are more examples of processed meats?

Here are some examples of processed meats.

  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Canned corn beef
  • Vienna sausages
  • Pepperoni
  • Ham or prosciutto or pancetta
  • Deli turkey or turkey breast
  • Salami
  • Bologna
I am terrible at eating breakfast and used to go for cereal; however, I recently changed it up to greek yogurt with homemade granola.

It’s great that you’re working on eating nutritious breakfasts with some protein! Greek yogurt can be a great choice if it’s plain and low-fat or nonfat. It’s high in protein and calcium.

Homemade granola can have whole grains and fiber. It’s good to be aware of any added sugars you use like honey, agave or other syrup, or white or brown sugar. Granola often has additional high-calorie ingredients like oil, raisins, nuts, and seeds. While they’re nutrient-rich, they’re also high in calories, so it’s good to watch portion sizes.

Whole-grain cereal can be a great alternative. Oat O’s, plain shredded wheat, and puffed brown rice are examples of low-sugar, whole-grain options.

For variety, you can always swap Greek yogurt for cottage cheese. You can also add some fresh fruit to make your breakfast more filling and higher in nutrients.

But yogurt has a lot of sugar.

Yogurt does have natural sugar from lactose, but yogurt is so healthy with protein, calcium, and probiotics, that it can be a great choice. Plus, the type of sugar in yogurt is lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar that doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels anywhere near as much as fructose (in fruit) or sucrose (white sugar). 

Flavored yogurt can have added sugars. You can check the list of ingredients and the nutrition facts panels to make sure you’re choosing yogurt without added sugars.

Is turkey sausage healthy?

It depends! Turkey sausage is generally healthier than pork or beef sausage because it doesn’t have red meat and doesn’t lead to the production of TMAO in your body, which is a heart disease risk factor. Also, turkey sausage is often lower in saturated fat than pork or beef sausage.

However, turkey sausage can have nitrates and be high in sodium and saturated fat. 

Your best bet is to choose lean or low-fat turkey or chicken sausage without nitrates, whether from sodium nitrate or celery powder. You can read the list of ingredients to make sure you’re avoiding nitrates. 

Plant-based meatless sausages are nitrate-free.

How (do) the # of protein (grams) correlate with (the) gastric sleeve?

Most surgeons recommend a high-protein diet after gastric sleeve. A goal of at least 65 grams a day is common, but it’s best to check with your surgeon to find out the recommended amount for you, as well as the portion sizes you should aim for and the best protein sources for you.

Do you recommend almond milk?

That's a good question! It's up to you, and here's why. 

Almond milk is lower in calories than dairy milk, with about 30 calories per cup in unsweetened almond milk compared to 90 calories in skim milk. It's also free from dairy and lactose, which is important if you need those characteristics. 

However, almond milk has very little protein, so it's best to make sure you don't count it as a protein source. 

If you do choose almond milk (or any non-dairy milk substitute), look for unsweetened varieties to avoid excess sugars and calories. 

OUR next live webinar

ZZZ's for an A+: Sleep as Your Silent Tool for Diabetes Prevention

February 21, 2024 12:30 PM
Members of Lark's Diabetes Prevention Program can check your emails for registration information! Not a member? See if you're eligible for live webinar access and more.

Related content you might enjoy:

No items found.