Weight loss is big business. According to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Dieters spend in excess of $33 billion dollars a year on weight loss products, equipment, supplements and books. In May 2012, six out of the top 10 books on the New York Times best-seller list had to do with food; two of them were diet books.
Dieting appears rather simple. When the body uses more energy than is immediately available, it taps into its storehouse: fat. When fat is used, weight goes down. When more calories are supplied than are needed, the nutrients get turned into adipose tissue and stored, usually around the hips, thighs, buttocks and stomach and the numbers on the scale go up. [more information on natural weight loss]
But not all calories are created equal. Each morsel of food contains a varying degree of nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each of these components does a particular job in the body. When foods with little nutritional value, often called “empty calories,” are consumed, the body suffers from a lack of essential workhorses, the nutrients needed to help the body function optimally. If few nutrients are eaten, bone and tissue can’t rebuild themselves; organs struggle to perform and metabolism slows to preserve the level of chemical compounds necessary to support life.
A major player in the game of life support is protein. Protein enables every cell in the body to function. Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids. The body uses 22 amino acids, nine of which must be taken in through food. These nine are called “essential” amino acids, although they are all equally important.
During digestion, the body uses enzymes to break down protein into the various amino acids. These acids are absorbed into the bloodstream where they head off to work. Some acids are used to supply energy; others, such as glycine and serine assist in the production of glucose, a compound vital to maintaining blood sugar and metabolism. Others, such as leucine, are also instrumental in stimulating and maintaining muscle growth.
In a article published in the 2003 Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that the amino acid, leucine, found in eggs, chicken, game meat and other protein sources, helped regulate insulin and glucose levels while protecting lean body mass. The study found that people who ate the most leucine-containing protein were able to control their hunger better and lost less muscle mass while dieting than those on low-calorie diets.
Leading researcher Donald K. Layman, professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has conducted numerous studies on the benefits of amino acids in weight loss. In March 2009, the Journal of Nutrition published a study conducted by Layman determining the ability of subjects who lost weight on low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets to maintain their lower body weight. After evaluating subjects based on whether they followed a high protein diet or a high carbohydrate diet for eight months after their weight loss, Layman concluded that the subjects on the high protein diet lost more fat mass and lowered their serum triglyceride and HDL levels than those on the high carb diet, even months later.
Layman’s next study, published in June of 2009, showed that, in lab rats, activation of muscle protein synthesis—the rebuilding of muscle tissue—occurred in proportion to the amount of leucine in their meal. The higher the leucine, the more the body turned protein into muscle tissue.
Maintaining muscle mass while dieting is extremely important in preventing a slowdown in metabolism. When dieters lose muscle mass, the number of calories needed by the body decreases. Once the diet is over and the dieter resumes eating as usual, the body begins to store the excess calories as fat and the cycle repeats itself. Maintaining muscle mass helps keep metabolism running higher and can prevent yo-yo weight gain.
Amino acids that help regulate and maintain the formation of glucose can help keep blood sugar levels from falling too quickly, a sure-fire way to make poor food choices. Once blood sugar falls, many people reach for carbohydrates for an immediate boost. However, this can have a detrimental effect as the blood sugar control mechanisms become stressed. Eventually, diabetes can occur, which makes weight loss even more difficult.
According to an article published in 2009 in The Original Internist, Oxford professor Dr. Rachel Oliver states that 14 amino acids help regulate and stabilize blood sugar. She concludes that, because amino acid oxidize and are lost during strenuous exercise, athletes who engage in endurance training may need to supplement their diets with additional amino acids.
One of the potential benefits of royal jelly, a substance high in amino acids, is weight loss. Learn more