I’m currently on a speaking tour in Australia, and one thing I’m frequently asked about in Q&A sessions is the prevalence of middle age, particularly the weight gain that occurs around menopause.
Why does it happen and what can you do about it, if anything?
The frustrating thing for many women, especially in their forties, is that they start gaining extra pounds without any visible change in lifestyle.
Of course, one of the main factors is the sudden change in hormones that occurs around menopause.
As estrogen levels drop, women are more likely to gain weight around their stomachs, rather than around their hips or thighs (the exact reason is unknown).
Hormonal changes also mean that sleep worsens, leading to hunger and cravings—in particular, for energy-dense (i.e., calories) foods.
Enhancing protein intake in middle age should not only help prevent significant weight gain, but also reduce the risk of osteoporosis and muscle soreness.
But there is a new idea proposed by leading Australian researchers Professor David Raubenheimer and Professor Steve Simpson – experts in the nutritional causes of obesity – who believe the problem lies in a lack of protein.
They believe that midlife weight gain mainly occurs because as we get older, and especially as women enter menopause, our need for protein increases so we eat more of everything, subconsciously trying to increase our protein intake. Unfortunately, a lot of the extra calories consumed are in the form of fast food.
But there is good news. In a recent paper published in the Journal of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the two scientists said that to stop this, all you need to do is increase your protein intake by a few percent.
If you put aside that sugary snack and instead eat more protein-rich foods, like eggs, meat, fish, beans or tofu, you’ll experience less hunger and fewer cravings.
Boosting protein intake in middle age should not only help prevent excessive weight gain, but also reduce the risk of osteoporosis and hypertrophy (loss of muscle mass), as protein is also needed to strengthen bones and muscles.
This doesn’t just apply to women going through menopause — it also affects men after the age of 60. So why do protein needs change? With menopause, the decrease in estrogen seems to lead to an increased breakdown of protein stored as tissue in your body.
But this is also because our bodies (male or female) as we get older become less efficient at absorbing and using protein.
Protein is also a great driver of hunger. The professors demonstrated this in an elegant experiment a few years ago, recruiting 22 healthy volunteers and keeping them in hotel-style accommodation at the University of Sydney.
As estrogen levels drop, women are more likely to gain weight around their stomach, not their hips or thighs
Volunteers were given meals and snacks that were identical in calories, but contained different amounts of protein. It made a huge difference.
Without realizing it, the participants ate, on average, 210 more calories per day on the low-protein diet than on the high-protein diet. They also felt more hungry two hours after eating the low-protein breakfast.
This is definitely what I found. When I eat eggs or shark for breakfast, I keep myself full until lunchtime. If I eat the same number of calories in cereal or toast, I crave a snack by mid-morning.
This is partly because eating protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while increasing levels of a hormone called peptide YY, which makes you feel full.
NHS guidelines say women should eat around 45g of protein a day, and men 55g.
But many experts believe these numbers are too low, especially as we get older. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, eating more protein is “associated with higher bone density, a slower rate of bone loss and a reduced risk of hip fracture.”
And a large US study called the offspring of the Framingham Heart Study found that over two decades, those who ate at least 90 grams of protein per day scored better on measures of frailty, including grip strength, and the ability to walk up and down stairs. , walk half a mile or get dressed more than those who have 60 grams or less per day.
How to increase protein
Research shows that your body absorbs more protein if you spread your intake throughout the day, rather than just one meal — and that a high-protein breakfast is an especially good way to prevent hunger later in the day.
So why not start your day with eggs? I often have two for breakfast (14g protein), with smoked salmon (60g provides 11g protein), or the occasional bacon (the rusher has about 8g protein).
And if you’re concerned about eggs and your heart, a 2018 study in the journal Heart, which included half a million adults, found that people who eat eggs most days have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who eat eggs less frequently. . A porridge made with rolled oats (instead of the instant stuff) is a good source of protein, especially when made with cow’s milk and nuts sprinkled on top, which provides 14 grams in a 1/2 cup serving.
A 2018 study in the journal Heart, which included half a million adults, found that people who ate eggs most days had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Eating Greek yogurt is also a good way to boost your protein levels, especially if you sprinkle on a few nuts.
I think this yogurt tastes better and because it’s strained, it usually has twice the amount of protein, about 12 grams in a 1/2 cup serving.
For lunch or your evening meal, a serving of beef, pork or chicken will give you a protein boost, providing 33g of protein per 100g of meat. Or you might prefer fish with a small piece of salmon that comes in around 30 grams of protein.
Along with fish or meat, why not try quinoa? It’s a common food, many people think it’s a grain, like rice, but it’s actually a seed. Although quinoa is more expensive than rice, my wife Claire and I eat it more often because it is rich in fiber and minerals, but also because it contains about 8g of protein per 50g serving.
If you’re a vegetarian, or simply want a break from meat, lentils and beans are packed with protein.
One cup of cooked lentils (200g) provides around 20g of protein, while tofu, a great meat substitute, gives you around 18g of protein per 150g serving.
(tags to translate) Daily Mail