Why swapping carbs for protein in your breakfast can help you lose weight


The key to "training" our metabolic flexibility lies on our dinner plate, according to nutrition experts

Avocado and poached egg on toast.
Avocado and poached egg on toast.SHUTTERSTOCK

What's the best way to lose weight? How do you lose 10 pounds? What foods help you shed the pounds? Which workouts burn the most calories? At this time of year, we become obsessed with the idea of losing as much weight as possible, in the least amount of time, and preferably with the least effort. We don't care how 'dangerous' the method may or may not be. Any 'shortcut' will do if it helps us reach our goal, even if the cost is potentially higher than we think: our health.

"Losing weight isn't a quick fix for improving our long-term health; it necessitates a change in lifestyle and other habits. It's not just about eating well, but also about how we expend the caloric energy we consume through exercise, getting adequate rest and, effectively managing our stress levels. Many still hold the belief that they need to shed the pounds to look good in a swimsuit, without stopping to think about the effort required on their part. There are no magic formulas for weight loss, and even if they exist, they likely come with drawbacks. That's why it's crucial to ask ourselves what level of commitment we are willing to make in order to introduce the necessary changes to our lifestyle," explains Enrique González, a Functional Nutrition therapist with a background in biochemistry, dietetics, and naturopathy.

In his opinion, "the 'downside' of living in a country with a prominent food culture is the belief that we are eating well, even though, at times, the combination of nutrients isn't always the best". For starters, González stresses that, whether eating at home or out, "we must ensure that we have a balanced proportion of macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) on our plates, adjusting the amount of each based on our goals, so that our body starts to 'understand' that it needs to draw from energy sources different from the usual ones".

This metabolic flexibility is essential for achieving balance in our diet. "We live in a society where we can't always be meticulously examining whether everything we eat is entirely healthy. However, thanks to metabolic flexibility, our body should be able to take energy from different sources. In other words, just as it obtains immediate energy from rapidly absorbed carbohydrates, it should also be able to do so from fat stores or proteins."

The key to maintaining our weight and increasing metabolic flexibility lies in our breakfast. "We tend to have a nutritionally deficient breakfast, loaded with sugars, when this meal should be reserved for proteins. As a result, we kick off the day with a calorie surplus and spikes in our blood sugar, leaving us hungry and more likely to snack throughout the day. All of this eventually creates a hormonal imbalance that, ultimately, contributes to weight gain.

The expert goes on to explain, "by simply eliminating coffee and carbohydrates from your breakfast and replacing them with some form of protein (such as eggs and salmon), you can lose weight. As a result, insulin spikes won't be as pronounced (sudden surges are what promote fat accumulation), you won't spend the morning snacking to cope with energy crashes, and you'll actually have an appetite by the time lunch rolls around."

To better understand how our body uses carbohydrates and proteins as fuel to generate energy, he gives us a visual example. "Let's imagine we want to light a fireplace. We can do it with sticks and leaves. That way, we'll get a very fast and explosive fire, but it will burn out quickly, and we'll have to keep adding more sticks to keep it lit. That's precisely how carbohydrates work in our body. On the other hand, if we use a log (a metaphor for proteins), it will take a little longer to ignite, but its energy will be more sustained and long-lasting."

This is why, he explains, "all hormones can be interconnected: when some go up, others go down. The most well-known is insulin, involved in the blood sugar management. A diet based on rapid-absorption carbohydrates will compromise that insulin, causing the excess energy received by the body to accumulate as fat".

To determine the right diet for weight loss, beyond examining and correcting one's nutrition, González emphasizes the importance of assessing their hormonal balance. "When a person gains weight, their hormones suffer an imbalance, which can indicate an underlying problem. Restoring that balance will be fundamental in ensuring that weight maintenance is sustainable."

Stress levels

Believe it or not, he also highlights that "many people who go on a diet overlook the importance of the stress levels they experience throughout the day and how this influences their weight loss journey. They struggle to shed the pounds because high cortisol levels, especially at night, hampers the quality of their sleep, preventing the correct functioning of ghrelin and leptin, hormones produced in the digestive system and involved in fat dissolution".

When it comes to slimming down, this nutrition specialist emphasizes a point that, although obvious, we often forget. "Everyone has their own genetics: tall, short, wide hips, flat chested... Our bodies have certain characteristics inherited from our ancestors. We can't become hyperfixated on unattainable body types when they are not physically possible to achieve."

González has no doubt that nutritional supplements are "an added bonus to the foundation of healthy habits (balanced diet, physical activity, rest, emotional wellbeing)". So, what would be the most suitable supplements, within the framework of a nutrition plan designed by a professional, to help us lose weight in a healthy way? "Supplements that help activate enzyme metabolism (responsible for breaking down nutrients into particles our body can absorb properly), such as magnesium, zinc, or chromium, are all recommended, as well as those that increase energy levels or assist in combating chronic inflammation - it's worth noting that obesity is an inflammatory process. And, of course, those with antioxidant action, known as 'fat burners,' as they will stimulate the circulation of fat stored in different areas of the body," he concludes.

Read the original article in Spanish here.