Regulating protein for weight loss has long been overlooked and lost amid the carbohydrate debate. Proteins actually have a greater satiating effect on both the body and brain than fats or carbs.[i] The gut-brain connection is actually strengthened by protein: “metabolic signals emanating from the gastrointestinal tract after protein ingestion target the brain to control feeding, energy expenditure, and hormones.” [ii]
Specifically, one of the key hormones that regulates body fatness is found in the central nervous system. Studies have shown that people who are overweight or classified as obese have poor leptin sensitivity; “When leptin sensitivity improves, the hypothalamus in the brain reacts to the increased levels of circulating leptin by decreasing hunger and increasing energy expenditure,” making protein an ideal food choice for weight loss and management.[iii]
Not only does protein provide a mental boost, it is significant for weight loss in key ways. Since a protein food slows digestion, you feel “full” for a longer period. Over time, this reduction in calories will decrease weight loss. Protein also makes your body “work for it,” expending energy to digest the food as well as burn fat instead of lean muscle.[iv]
The Western culture leads most Americans to think that protein is only an animal product. However, there are a plethora of excellent protein choices! While protein derived from an animal is packaged with other beneficial weight loss nutrients, there are nine “complete protein” groups that supply all nine essential amino acids not made in the body:
- Poultry and Eggs
- Game meats
- Beans and Peas
- Nuts and Seeds
While I incorporate a variety of proteins into our menu, the boys in my family still love meat. “Tastes good but where’s more meat, Ma?” is constantly heard from my growing teen boy! However, animal protein foods tend to be very pricey, especially high quality meats that are free from additives and such.
One trick of the trade for slimming down the food budget (along with the waistline) is to grind your own meats, and specifically pork for this post. You will incur one time expenses to purchase an attachment grinder for your mixer or another preferred tool. However, given the savings that DIY meat grinding offers, the attachment expense should be recouped quickly.
Why grind and package your own ground pork? By purchasing a large pork butt wholesale, we can cut and save sliced pork stew meat chunks before preparing the rest of the meat as ground. Slicing your own pork butt allows you to cut away and save any of the best marbled sections as (cheap) stew meat pieces. In general, pork butt is one of the most flavorful cuts on a pig.
The cost of a whole pork butt is sold at a better per pound price than prepackaged ground pork, which can have “other” ingredients like water or “natural” flavors added to the meat package (although they must be labeled as such) and frequently they add scraps and other cuts that have less flavor. The average cost per pound for ground pork fluctuates around $2.50, and $3.50 per pound for rib end stew chunks. In contrast, by grinding your own all natural pork cuts, with some pieces of stew meat set aside, the cost is a lower price per pound-that of whole pork butt: national average in December of $1.65!
The process for doing this is relatively simple. You will need a sharp kitchen knife, a large cutting board and whatever grinding implement you have begged, borrowed, or purchased. I remove everything and anything from the area for an easier clean up (always with bleach or a disinfectant wipe). Putting a towel under the meat board will catch any drips or spills, preventing the dreaded spread of blood down every cabinet nook and cranny on its way to the floor!
I set up an assembly line of stations: Tray for uncut meat-cutting board with towel-grinding machine-catch basin-storage bag grab-weighing station for portion sizing. I then use the tray under the scale to stack the flattened bags for the trip to the deep freezer.
First, we carefully slice the meat in to one inch pieces selecting out and setting aside well marbled pieces as we go to include in stews later. These pieces become super tender when cooked at low temperatures for longer time periods (all that intramuscular fat breaks down beautifully). If there is more than one person helping, we will start up the grinder and keep adding in meat cubes as they are being cut.
After cutting all of the pork up we then go on to the grinding step. We make a point of combining the fattier pieces and the lean as we feed it in to the grinder to help blend the fats. Additionally, when we are all finished, we mix the ground meat in the bowl together to further blend before separating it into individual portion sizes for freezing. We take the time to use a kitchen scale at this point and weigh the portions in either 1 or 1.5 pound bags as our recipes call for those quantities. If using freezer bags, I highly recommend laying them flat so that the bag separates easily from the frozen meat; on more than one occasion, I’ve had a section of plastic “trapped” in a frozen meat fold!
When you finish, you will be able to immediately see the difference in quality of the ground meat. Instead of the light pink color of commercially ground pork, you will see a beautiful mix of reds and whites. These beautiful blend of healthy fat and lean meat will trim your waistline, keeping you full longer and burning more energy to digest the protein slowly. When done, clean like crazy as you think about enjoying the savings!