Gastric Sleeve Surgery Patients: Your Protein Source Matters

Protein shakes seem like an easy way to reach your daily nutrient goals while on a gastric sleeve diet. They’re even necessary sometimes, especially right after you’ve been sleeved, when you’re limited to liquids. But a recent study confirms what I’ve been saying for years: Getting protein from a variety of sources (and not shakes or bars) is linked to better health.

The takeaway from a recent University of Sydney study published in Nature Metabolism is that too much of the protein commonly found in these shakes can negatively affect everything from your mood to your weight. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids found naturally in food; it seems to be supplementation that leads to potential issues.

The problem? Too many BCAAs in the blood can reduce the chances that hormones responsible for regulating sleep and controlling appetite will reach the brain. When the BCAAs win, your sleep and weight loss goals may lose.

What to Eat Instead
After vertical sleeve gastrectomy, most patients opt for a high-protein diet because it tends to deliver consistent results. But it’s easy to get lazy after a while. Why prep chicken breasts when you can grab a shake from the fridge or a bar from the pantry? The reality, though, is that whatever diet you choose, you need to get your nutrients from aa wide range of sources. Chicken, fish, and eggs are high-quality (and popular!) protein sources for carnivore VSG patients. But vegetarians and vegans can get plenty of protein through beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, and soy foods like tofu and tempeh.

How to Get a Variety of Protein

  • Write it down. Planning what you’ll eat, whether it’s by the day or by the week, helps ensure that you’re eating protein from different sources. This allows you to consider everything before you eat: chicken on Monday, salmon on Tuesday, tofu stir fry on Wednesday, etc. Or: veggie omelet for breakfast, turkey patties for lunch, salad with lentils and black beans for dinner. It’s easy to convince yourself in hindsight that your daily diet is fine, but seeing it in black-and-white (or on a computer screen) shows the real picture.
  • Try something new. Never had lentils or tempeh before? Make new foods an adventure by looking for recipes that excite you. If you’re a fan of Indian food, for example, research recipes that incorporate curry spices into your lentil or soy-based dish. The same holds true for “mainstream” proteins. If you’ve never been a fan of fish because you hated the overcooked, dried-out stuff your mom used to make (sorry, Mom!), take another run at it by grilled or broiling a fillet and adding a low-carb sauce.
  • Have protein with every meal.This has more to do with your daily totals than diversity, but it’s important to emphasize. Start every meal with protein, then go on to your produce. If nothing else, your taste buds will demand that you switch up your protein sources after a while simply because you can only eat so much of the same thing.
  • Make snacks count. The bariatric community is divided about whether snacking is a good idea, but the truth is that most people do it at least occasionally. So if you’re going to have a snack, make it count. Think outside the hard-boiled egg box with a carton of no-sugar Greek yogurt, a cup of edamame (soybeans), a handful of sunflower seeds, or a portion of canned tuna.

Reaching for a protein shake once in a while isn’t going to derail your weight loss efforts. And it’s certainly better than reaching for crappy food that may trigger binges. But I want to encourage you to switch up your protein sources regularly to ensure that you’re not just losing weight, but you’re doing it in the healthiest way possible. 

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