Eating carbohydrates makes you store belly fat. Eating protein puts on muscle. Most people know that. But a recent study1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when you over eat on a low protein diet, you store bad fat around your organs including the liver, kidneys and pancreas. But if you eat a high protein diet, you add muscle and increase your resting metabolism and muscle mass. Since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, that’s a good thing.
In the study, researchers admitted 25 brave volunteers to a hospital ward for 12 weeks. They controlled everything they ate and did. But they made them all overeat about 1,000 calories a day. The only different was where the calories came from – protein or carbs.
The low protein group (5% protein) lost 1.5 pounds of muscle, and gained 7.5 pounds of fat. The high protein group (25% protein) gained 6.3 pounds of metabolically active muscle. They also gained fat because they were being force fed. But even though they gained more total weight, they were LESS fat than the low protein group.
This has important implications for our thinking about calories.
Bottom line: Not all calories are the same. Some calories make you store fat, while others make you store muscle.
In a world where for the first time in history more people are overweight (2.1 billion) than underweight this has important implications. And the world is getting bigger – over the next 30 years, the prevalence of obesity will double and mostly in countries like China and India (because how do you get twice as many fat people in a country like America where 65% are already fat)!
Here’s the take home. Quickly absorbed carbohydrates from the bulk of the American and increasingly the world’s diet – from sugar, high fructose corn syrup and white flour, are very efficiently turned into belly fat in the body.2 And that leads to obesity and diabetes, or what I call diabesity.
Another recent study found that the free fructose in high fructose corn syrup (not in fruit), led to dramatic increases in belly fat, inflammation, blood pressure, blood sugar and even pre-diabetes in adolescents.3
Carbohydrates and protein trigger produce very different chemical messages in the body independent of calories. Carbs lay down the fat, while protein lays down muscle. 4
This study on protein adds to a whole slew of research that proves that higher protein diets (25%) does all sorts of obesity fighting things to your body and your brain.
- It makes you feel more full than an equivalent amount of calories from carbs.
- It leads to more weight loss in “free-living” humans as compared the ones who were force fed extra calories.
- It prevents gaining weight back after you have lost weight.5
- It speeds up metabolism and builds muscle so you burn more calories all day long and even while you sleep.
- Reducing belly fat and building muscle is quite simple. And it is not just about the calories you consume. It is about where those calories come from.
- Here are a few simple tips to speed up your metabolism and get rid of belly fat.
- Skip the sugar – in all of its forms. Especially liquid calories from any source (soda, juice, alcohol) all of which store belly fat. Be on a mission to get high fructose corn syrup out of your diet, it is especially good at laying down belly fat.
- Ditch the flour – wheat flour, especially, is just like sugar. Did you know that 2 slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of table sugar?
- Start the day with protein not starch or sugar. Try whole omega-3 eggs, a protein shake, nut butters or even kippers! Skip the bagels, muffins and donuts.
- Have protein with every meal – try nuts like almonds, walnuts or pecans, seeds like pumpkin, chia or hemp or have beans, chicken or fish.
- Somehow we are still duped by the idea that all calories are the same. They are not. Hopefully soon the practice of nutrition and medicine, and our government nutrition advice will catch up with the science. Then perhaps we can make a dent in the tsunami of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease coming right at us.
- My personal hope is that together we can create a national conversation about a real, practical solution for the prevention, treatment, and reversal of our obesity, diabetes and chronic disease
- To learn more and to get a free sneak preview of
- go to
- Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
- To your good health,
- Mark Hyman, MD
- 1. Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, Xie H, Rood J, Martin CK, Most M, Brock C, Mancuso S, Redman LM. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012 Jan 4;307(1):47-55.
- 2. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322–1334.
- 3. Pollock NK, Bundy V, Kanto W, Davis CL, Bernard PJ, Zhu H, Gutin B, Dong Y. Greater fructose consumption is associated with cardiometabolic risk markers and visceral adiposity in adolescents. J Nutr. 2012 Feb;142(2):251-7.
- 4. Devkota S, Layman DK. Increased ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein shifts the focus of metabolic signaling from skeletal muscle to adipose. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011;8(1):13
- 5. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21–41.
Mark Hyman, MD
- Dr. Hyman is dedicated to identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic illness through a groundbreaking whole-systems medicine approach called Functional Medicine. He is a family physician, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in his field.