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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why Protein?

The first rule for living after weight loss surgery is Protein First – that means eating protein at all three daily meals, and protein must be 50 percent of food intake. Animal products are the most nutrient rich source of protein and include fish, poultry and meat. Dairy, including eggs, is another excellent source of animal protein. Nuts and legumes are also good sources of protein, but sometimes difficult for the bariatric patient to consume.

Protein is essential in the weeks immediately following surgery because it facilitates the body’s healing process. Surgery invades and injures to the body. Muscles and tissues are damaged by surgery, even the minimally invasive laparoscopic surgeries. When body tissues are damaged the body responds by increasing protein production from the dietary amino acids found in animal protein. To do so, the body requires an abundant supply of amino acids. One of the first foods allowed a post-operative patient is gelatin: it contains protein from the bone, skin and connective tissues of animals. Gelatin is a cool, smooth healing tonic for the injured body. Studies show that patients who eat adequate protein will heal better and faster than patients who are protein deficient.

Science is proving that a protein rich diet will prompt weight loss and increase energy. The body contains over fifty-thousand different active proteins all made out of the same building blocks: amino acids. Amino acids are made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen as well as sulfur, phosphorus and iron. Many diseases – including obesity – indicate an amino acid deficiency.

In spite of the by-passed nature of the bariatric system, patients will metabolize proteins normally. Amino acids from food are not broken down in digestion or the small bowel. Instead they are absorbed directly through the bowel wall into the bloodstream. A diet rich in lean protein is the most efficient way for patients to heal their body, boost energy and avoid protein deficiency. A diet of lean protein guarantees weight loss.

The distinction must be made between high fat proteins and lean proteins. A bariatric system will not tolerate high fat proteins such as bacon, fatty beef or sausage products or greasy fried chicken skin. In fact, many patients report repulsion or nausea when presented high fat protein options. Meat with fat and poultry with skin contain a great deal of saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which increase the risks of cardiovascular disease. Milk and cheese are also significant sources of saturated fat. For many patients, intolerance of milk products prevents them from eating too much saturated dairy fat.

Before surgery, like most Americans, we ate too much high fat protein. In fact, protein deficiency is very rare in this country. Fortunately, there is an abundance of low-fat, high protein options. The advice varies from doctor to doctor, but generally patients should try to eat 20 to 50 grams of lean protein each day after their weight loss has stabilized. In the early weeks and months following surgery the protein intake will be much less, sometimes only 15 to 20 grams a day. See the specific guidelines from your surgical center to determine a timeline for protein intake.

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