These 5 Proteins Expand Your Waistline and Increase Belly Fat

Worst Proteins For Your Waistline

When it comes to weight management and improving body composition, arguably the most effective dietary strategy is to optimize your protein intake. You see, there’s a pretty hefty body of research showing that high-protein diets:

  • Accelerate fat loss and spare calorie-burning lean muscle when following a reduced-calorie diet1–3
  • Prevent weight regain and promote long-term weight maintenance4,5
  • Optimize muscle protein synthesis and help build and maintain calorie-burning lean muscle6,7
  • Increase muscle size and strength and promote recovery when combined with regular resistance training
  • Boost metabolic rate8,9
  • Preserve metabolic rate after weight loss10,11
  • Increase satiety, improve appetite control, and reduce cravings12–14
  • Improve glycemic control15–18

Simply put, optimizing protein intake helps improve appetite control, enhance body composition, boost functional capacity, support healthy aging, and improve metabolic health. Speaking generally, a good starting point for most people is to aim for about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body per day.19

But here’s the deal: Not all proteins are created equal. In fact, there are several very common choices that may actually have a counterproductive effect on body composition and overall health.

With that in mind, the goal is to help shine a light on some of those foods and ingredients that fall under the umbrella of proteins and may appear to be healthy—or are marketed as such—when in fact they may be derailing you from achieving your health and body composition goals.

Soy Protein

There may not be a more polarizing source of protein than soy. Depending on who you ask, soy protein either has a halo or horns and a pitchfork. There are a number of potential problems with soy protein consumption. For instance, soy contains substances called goitrogens, which can impair thyroid function, making weight management difficult as well as leading to a host of other issues.

In addition, soy contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which may negatively impact reproductive hormones in both men and women. What’s more, nearly all the soy (>90%) grown in the United States is genetically modified (i.e., GMO). While this is a complex and controversial topic, it’s worth pointing out. In addition, soy contains substances (called trypsin inhibitors) that can inhibit the activity of digestive enzymes responsible for breaking down protein, which can lead to GI distress.

Perhaps most importantly, numerous studies show that soy, a lower quality protein, is inferior to higher quality proteins (e.g., whey) when it comes to improving body composition and controlling appetite. For instance, research shows that supplementation with whey protein leads to greater increases in satiety hormones (e.g., GLP-1), greater reductions in hunger hormones (e.g., ghrelin), less body and belly fat, more calorie-burning lean muscle, and better recovery from exercise compared to soy protein.20–27

Fried Meats

You’d assume it goes without saying, but you know what happens when you start assuming things. Nonetheless, it bears repetition that commercially fried foods—including meat, poultry, and seafood—are not just bad for your waistline, they are “not safe for human consumption.”

Those aren’t my words. That’s the verdict of the FDA on the topic of industrial-produced trans fats. And, the fact is that partially hydrogenated oils, the major dietary source of trans fats, are the oil of choice when it comes to deep frying foods. There’s nothing healthy about these types of trans fats.

If that wasn’t enough, frying foods also results in the formation of advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs for short, also known as glycotoxins. In fact, the AGE content of a food can be up to 200 times greater after it’s fried. AGEs, which can also be formed inside the body (and it typically does so parallel to high blood sugar levels), increase free radical formation, impair antioxidant defense systems, increase oxidative stress, promote inflammation, and when combined with a typical Western-style diet (which tends to be higher in AGE-containing foods), AGEs may facilitate weight gain.28,29

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Gluten-Containing Foods

Listen, I’ll be one of the first to tell you that gluten probably isn’t the devil many make it out to be. However, considering that going gluten-free typically means cutting out ultra-processed foods made with refined wheat (e.g., breads, breakfast cereals, pastas, bagels, baked goods, crackers, pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, breading/coating, croutons, tortillas, etc.), it sure can be a step in the right direction for many people.

Here’s what Lara Field, MS, RD, and pediatric nutrition advisor at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, has to say on the topic: “There is evidence that when people make [gluten-free] diet changes, they may lose weight. It might not necessarily be because of the gluten, but rather the fact that they have eliminated processed foods from the diet and are eating more lean proteins and fruits and vegetables.”30

Yeah, what she said.

Now, before you chastise me and tell me you feel incredible on a gluten-free diet, I certainly acknowledge that a small percentage of the population struggles with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, I think it’s also important to recognize that there are components in wheat other than gluten, such as FODMAPs (fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols) and amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) that may be to be blame for the issues (e.g., digestive discomfort) that some folks experience.31–35

Metabolic Age Quiz

Nonetheless, if gluten-free is a cue to move away from ultra-processed foods and gravitate toward minimally processed whole foods, then I’m okay with that!

Meat and Dairy from Feedlot Animals

On many an occasion, we’ve discussed the negative health consequences of excess consumption of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, particularly when they’re out of balance with inherently anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. While researchers attribute this in large part to the ubiquity of low-quality, refined vegetable/seed oils (such as safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils, which are rich in omega-6 fats) present in the Western diet, consumption of foods from farm animals raised on oil seeds rich in omega-6 fats (e.g., corn, soy) plays an important role.36,37

Surely you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat.” That also applies to the animal products we eat, and the nutrition profile of foods such as beef, chicken, dairy, and eggs can be influenced by the type of food the animal was raised on. Along those lines, compared to “conventional” (i.e., grain-fed) animals, systematic reviews show meat and dairy from organic (i.e., pasture-raised) animals are significantly higher in omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This can help support a healthy metabolism and body composition. What’s more, they have a healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.38,39

Egg Substitutes

Generally speaking, if you’re the type who chooses egg substitutes—or even egg whites for that matter—over whole eggs (including the yolk…especially the yolk), then you’re missing out. Maybe I can persuade you by giving you 6 darn-good reasons to eat the whole egg. Still need more evidence? Okay.


  • grass-fed meat
  • Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2003;133(2):411-417.
  • Tang M, Armstrong CLH, Leidy HJ, Campbell WW. Normal vs. high-protein weight loss diets in men: Effects on body composition and indices of metabolic syndrome. Obes Silver Spring Md. 2013;21(3):E204-210. doi:10.1002/oby.20078.
  • Wycherley TP, Brinkworth GD, Clifton PM, Noakes M. Comparison of the effects of 52 weeks weight loss with either a high-protein or high-carbohydrate diet on body composition and cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight and obese males. Nutr Diabetes. 2012;2(8):e40. doi:10.1038/nutd.2012.11.
  • Layman DK, Evans EM, Erickson D, et al. A moderate-protein diet produces sustained weight loss and long-term changes in body composition and blood lipids in obese adults. J Nutr. 2009;139(3):514-521. doi:10.3945/jn.108.099440.
  • Larsen TM, Dalskov S-M, van Baak M, et al. Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(22):2102-2113. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1007137.
  • Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014;144(6):876-880. doi:10.3945/jn.113.185280.
  • Rodriguez NR. Protein-centric meals for optimal protein utilization: Can it be that simple? J Nutr. 2014;144(6):797-798. doi:10.3945/jn.114.193615.
  • Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Rolland V, Wilson SA, Westerterp KR. Satiety related to 24 h diet-induced thermogenesis during high protein/carbohydrate vs high fat diets measured in a respiration chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999;53(6):495-502.
  • Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab. 2004;1(1):5. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-5.
  • Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  • Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, et al. Effects of dietary composition on energy expenditure during weight-loss maintenance. JAMA. 2012;307(24):2627-2634. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607.
  • Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: A critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-385.
  • Leidy HJ. Increased dietary protein as a dietary strategy to prevent and/or treat obesity. Mo Med. 2014;111(1):54-58.
  • Ortinau LC, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Leidy HJ. Effects of high-protein vs. high-fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutr J. 2014;13:97. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-97.
  • Layman DK, Baum JI. Dietary protein impact on glycemic control during weight loss. J Nutr. 2004;134(4):968S-73S.
  • Farnsworth E, Luscombe ND, Noakes M, Wittert G, Argyiou E, Clifton PM. Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(1):31-39.
  • Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, Hoover H. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(4):734-741.
  • Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ. Effect of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet on blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 2004;53(9):2375-2382.
  • Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. July 2017. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608.
  • Veldhorst MAB, Nieuwenhuizen AG, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, et al. Dose-dependent satiating effect of whey relative to casein or soy. Physiol Behav. 2009;96(4-5):675-682.
  • Tahavorgar A, Vafa M, Shidfar F, Gohari M, Heydari I. Whey protein preloads are more beneficial than soy protein preloads in regulating appetite, calorie intake, anthropometry, and body composition of overweight and obese men. Nutr Res N Y N. 2014;34(10):856-861. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.08.015.
  • Baer DJ, Stote KS, Paul DR, Harris GK, Rumpler WV, Clevidence BA. Whey protein but not soy protein supplementation alters body weight and composition in free-living overweight and obese adults. J Nutr. 2011;141(8):1489-1494. doi:10.3945/jn.111.139840.
  • Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Macdonald MJ, Macdonald JR, Armstrong D, Phillips SM. Consumption of fluid skim milk promotes greater muscle protein accretion after resistance exercise than does consumption of an isonitrogenous and isoenergetic soy-protein beverage. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(4):1031-1040.
  • Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):373-381.
  • Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: Effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol Bethesda Md 1985. 2009;107(3):987-992. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00076.2009.
  • Yang Y, Churchward-Venne TA, Burd NA, Breen L, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Myofibrillar protein synthesis following ingestion of soy protein isolate at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(1):57. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-57.
  • Phillips SM, Tang JE, Moore DR. The role of milk- and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(4):343-354.
  • Nowotny K, Jung T, Höhn A, Weber D, Grune T. Advanced glycation end products and oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Biomolecules. 2015;5(1):194-222. doi:10.3390/biom5010194.
  • Sayej WN, Knight III PR, Guo WA, et al. Advanced glycation end products induce obesity and hepatosteatosis in CD-1 wild-type mice. BioMed Research International. doi:10.1155/2016/7867852.
  • Stein K. Severely restricted diets in the absence of medical necessity: The unintended consequences. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(7):986-994. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.03.008.
  • Biesiekierski JR, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR. No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. Gastroenterology. 2013;145(2):320-328-3. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2013.04.051.
  • Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Characterization of adults with a self-diagnosis of nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Nutr Clin Pract. 2014;29(4):504-509. doi:10.1177/0884533614529163.
  • Biesiekierski JR, Iven J. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: Piecing the puzzle together. United Eur Gastroenterol J. 2015;3(2):160-165. doi:10.1177/2050640615578388.
  • Junker Y, Zeissig S, Kim S-J, et al. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor 4. J Exp Med. 2012;209(13):2395-2408. doi:10.1084/jem.20102660.
  • Zevallos VF, Raker V, Tenzer S, et al. Nutritional wheat amylase-trypsin inhibitors promote intestinal inflammation via activation of myeloid cells. Gastroenterology. 2017;152(5):1100-1113.e12. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2016.12.006.
  • Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):560S-569S.
  • Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):950-962. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.006643.
  • Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C, et al. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(6):994-1011. doi:10.1017/S0007114515005073.
  • Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal CJ, et al. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: A systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(6):1043-1060. doi:10.1017/S0007114516000349.
  • Tran NL, Barraj LM, Heilman JM, Scrafford CG. Egg consumption and cardiovascular disease among diabetic individuals: A systematic review of the literature. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes Targets Ther. 2014;7:121-137. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S58668.
  • Blesso CN, Andersen CJ, Barona J, Volek JS, Fernandez ML. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism. 2013;62(3):400-410. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.08.014.
  • high protein vegetables