09/03/2011 11:25 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2011

Can This Protein Speed Up Weight Loss?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., EatingWell Nutrition Editor

The one pitfall of being a registered dietitian and nutrition editor is that people always come to me for weight-loss tips. But they don't want to hear "eat less, move more" (even though it works!), particularly because they're usually asking me in a party setting with a cocktail in one hand, reaching for a decadent and delicious appetizer with their other hand.

They -- and really everyone else -- want something that feels easy. And if eating food can deliver those results, well then I'm their diet savior!

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Here's the good news, which Karen Ansel reported in the July/August issue of EatingWell Magazine: New research in The Journal of Nutrition shows that whey protein (found naturally in dairy) may give you an extra edge if you're looking to get leaner.

Mice fed a high-fat diet that included whey, gained 42 percent less weight -- nearly a third less body fat -- and packed on 7 percent more lean body mass (read: muscle) than mice that didn't eat whey, though both groups ate roughly the same number of calories.

Howard Shertzer, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher and a professor of molecular toxicology at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, hypothesizes that whey protein is beneficial because its unique combination of amino acids (protein building blocks) may block fat from being metabolized, preventing some fat from being stored and weight gained. (Here's another tip for fighting fat with breakfast.) The extra amino acids also help build muscle.

Here's the not-so-good news: To get as much whey as the mice did, you'd have to take a supplement (such as protein powders or whey-based protein bars). You can get some whey naturally -- though in lower doses -- from ricotta, milk and yogurt. And really any protein when you're dieting is a good thing -- compared to carbs and fat, protein keeps you feeling fuller longer. Start your day with these protein-packed breakfast recipes.

Brierley Wright

Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.