Swap plant protein for meat, feel full and eat less later, study suggests

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When you eat protein, the source of that protein can make a difference when it comes to cancer prevention: AICR recommends limiting red meat, avoiding processed meat, and eating a variety of plant foods including legumes such as beans.

Now a study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research suggests that getting your protein from plant-based foods may also provide benefits for appetite control.

In this study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark fed 43 healthy young men who were normal weight or slightly overweight three different meals: a high protein meal based on legumes, a high protein meal based on meat, and a low protein meal based on legumes.

well known legumes include peas and beans

The men were randomly assigned to the meals at each test, and neither they nor the researchers knew which meal they were eating. Each meal test was at least 2 weeks apart.

The legume-based meals included beans and peas, while the meat-based meals included veal and pork. All three meals contained just over 800 calories. The legume- and meat-based high protein meals contained the same proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, although the legume-based meal contained more fiber. The low protein legume-based meal contained less protein and more carbohydrates than the other two meals.

Participants were served each meal in the morning after an overnight fast. They rated their appetite before eating the meal and then at regular intervals after consuming the meal for the next three hours.

After three hours, lunch was served and the men could eat as much as they wanted.

After eating the high protein legume-based meal in the morning, participants ate about 100 calories less for lunch. These participants rated their appetite as lower than they did after eating either the meat-based meal or the low protein legume-based meal.

When comparing the two high-protein meals, the extra fiber from beans and peas in the legume-based meal probably made the difference according to the researchers.

While this finding is interesting, making tasty plant-based meals that contain as much protein as meat-based meals may not be practical for the home cook. In this study, participants rated the high protein legume-based meal as less palatable than the other two meals.

However, participants thought the meat-based meal and the low protein legume-based meal were about equally palatable. Participants also rated their appetite as similar three hour after eating both of these meals. This suggests that to make a filling plant-based meal, you don’t necessarily have to match the protein content of meat because the extra fiber also helps control your appetite.

Interested in adding some plant-based protein sources to your diet? Try making AICR’s Spicy Roasted Chickpeas for a protein- and fiber-packed snack.

The study is supported by a grant from the Nordea Foundation and from The Danish Agriculture & Food Council, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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    Author: Julia Quam

    Julia Quam, MSPH, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist in the Washington, DC metro area. Julia is passionate about nutrition education and communicating evidence-based information about nutrition and physical activity to improve public health.

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