Eat protein to feel full, but learn what to pair it with to create the perfect balance at each meal
We’ve known for some time that protein boosts satiety, and now a new French study offers more clarity on why and how. By studying mice, researchers determined that receptors on nerves located in the walls of the vein that drains blood from the GI tract play a role in regulating appetite. Stimulating the receptors triggers eating, while blocking them blunts hunger. The scientists determined that by-products of digested protein block the receptors, and in turn signal the brain to release appetite-suppressing hormones.
But that doesn’t mean you should sit down to a plate of just chicken or shrimp. To reap the benefits of protein while still maintaining a healthy balance of “good” carbs and heart healthy fat, I include a lean protein at every meal in the eating plan from my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. I call my strategy the ‘5 piece puzzle,’ which involves eating specific portions of the following ‘puzzle pieces’ at each meal:
Puzzle piece #1: Produce (fruit at breakfast and snack time, veggies at lunch and dinner)
Fruits and vegetables are not only loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, but they’re also filling because they’re packed with fiber and fluid. In my plan, they make up the largest proportion of each meal, with an emphasis on in-season options.
Puzzle piece #2: Whole grain (including lots of gluten-free options such as quinoa, wild rice and whole organic corn)
Including a whole grain at meals provides additional fiber and slow burning carbs that better fuel active cells and regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, but the portion is only enough to energize and fuel your body, while still shrinking your fat cells.
Puzzle piece #3: Lean protein (which can include vegan options like beans, lentils or tofu, vegetarian choices like organic eggs and dairy, or omnivore selections including poultry or seafood)
In addition to boosting satiety and increasing post-meal calorie burning, protein supports muscle mass so you can stay toned and strong as you slim down.
Puzzle piece #4: Plant-based fat
Fat from plant-based foods like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and almond butter, are heart healthy but critical for weight control because they add the satisfaction factor to each meal. Fats delay stomach emptying, so you feel fuller longer, and they’re needed to absorb antioxidants, which hitch a ride as fats are absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.
Puzzle piece #5: SASS, which stands for slimming and satiating seasonings
These seasonings, including fresh and dried herbs, spices, vinegar, hot peppers, tea, and citrus juice add flavor and aroma to every meal with no sodium or sugar. And studies show that they pack a one-two-three weight loss punch. Seasonings boost calorie burning, improve satiety, and they’re packed with antioxidants, which aren’t just disease protective. Exciting new research shows that people who consume more antioxidants from whole foods weigh less, even when they don’t eat fewer calories.
Here are pictures from my Pinterest page of meals that ‘solve the puzzle’
- Breakfast: Berry Almond French Toast; protein source: organic egg
- Lunch: Mediterranean Lentils Over Whole Wheat Couscous; protein source: lentils
- Snack: Picnic Snack; protein source: organic tofu
- Dinner: Mediterranean Minted Turkey Salad; protein source: roasted turkey breast
The main idea of the plan is to provide structure, what to eat and how much of the puzzle pieces at each meal, but also freedom from counting calories, points or grams, as well as tons of flexibility. You can customize each of the 100 meals in the book using what I call the 'great swap out rule.' If a meal calls for shrimp as the lean protein and you don't eat seafood, just swap the shrimp for any other food on the lean protein list (lentils, chicken breast, etc.). If a meal calls for whole wheat pasta and you follow a gluten-free diet, you can swap the pasta for quinoa, wild rice, or a gluten-free pasta like brown rice pasta. If a meal calls for a fruit that's not in season you can swap it for one that is. The book also includes a chapter on how to use the lists to build your own '5 piece puzzle meals' so you can craft your own creative, personalized combinations.
Want to give it a try? Check out the week’s worth of mix and match S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim '5 piece puzzle' meals I created exclusively for Shape.com here, from the Ricotta and Peach Toast at breakfast to the Peanut Noodles with Salmon at dinner.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.