Where Protein Leverage Breaks: The Satiety Spectrum

Embark on a journey through the realm of protein leverage, a nutritional model often linked to enhanced satiety and better health management.

This article unveils where conventional wisdom on protein leverage hits a wall. With extensive data and insightful analysis, it reveals the nuanced relationships between protein intake, satiety and how these insights can shape our dietary choices.

Diving into the depths of protein leverage could reshape your understanding and be the catalyst for a transformative dietary adjustment.


  • We eat and store the most with 12% protein.   Increasing or lowering your protein % above or below 12% aligns with eating less. 
  • A very low protein diet provides a similar satiety response as a moderate protein diet. 
  • It’s not until we reach a higher protein % that protein leverage dominates the satiety equation.  So, protein leverage is irrelevant for people on a low-protein diet. 
  • To optimise satiety on a low-protein diet, you need to focus on nutrient density and lower energy density. 


Protein leverage is my favourite nutritional model. 

Most of the time, prioritising protein while dialling back energy from fat and/or carbs is the most powerful lever you can pull you can do to increase satiety and manage your hunger. 

But in this article, I want to show you where protein leverage breaks down. 

Models are critical to simplifying our world and navigating life.  As an engineer, I use models when designing a bridge or forecasting traffic 50 years in the future. 

However, it’s critical to not treat any model as a magical black box and the source of infallible truth.  We must understand the edge cases and ‘black swans’ where the data doesn’t fit the model.

Protein Leverage:  A Quick Refresher

Protein leverage is based on the understanding that all organisms, including humans, eat until they get adequate protein. 

  • Because it is such a major structural component of our bodies, protein is the nutrient that we have the strongest cravings for. 
  • Where protein is diluted by energy from fat and carbs (i.e. ultra-processed foods with a lower protein %), we have to eat more to get the protein we need.
  • In an environment where protein is more concentrated (i.e. foods with a higher protein %), we eat less because we require less energy to get the protein we need.   

The protein leverage hypothesis was pioneered by University of Sydney Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson, who have documented protein leverage in various species, from slime to grasshoppers, primates and humans. 

If you’re new to this concept, check out my article on protein leverage here for more details. 

Protein-Satiety Chart (Updated)

I recently added 159,499 days of NHANES data to my dataset of food logging data from people using Nutrient Optimiser.  The updated chart below shows the relationship between protein % and calorie intake across 304,311 people. 

Intriguingly, the additional data highlighted a peak in calorie intake at 12% protein.  This aligns with previous observations (see Stock, 1999) that humans gain weight more efficiently on a diet with about 12% protein.   So not only do we eat the most with this ‘perfectly balanced diet’, but we also store the most fat. 

Speakman et al. (2021) found mice fed a 1% protein diet ate the least and ate the most with a 5% protein diet. In their 2014 study of (initially) 1000 mice Raubenheimer and Simpson found that mice on a low protein diet (5% protein) experienced > 20% weight loss, rectal prolapse and failure to thrive; thus, 143 of the 1000 mice were euthanised and removed from the experiment.

The most hyperpalatable low-protein foods provide energy from a blend of fat and carbs.  The chart below shows the satiety response to non-fibre carbohydrates.  Like 12% protein peak energy intake, we also reach a perfect ‘balance point’ where we eat more and store more, at around 40% net carbs.  These foods fill our glucose and fat fuel tanks at the same and allow us to eat more.   

Food manufacturers seem to understand this and create ultra-processed, ultra-profitable food products to target our ‘bliss point’.  Ultra-processed foods combine refined fat and carbs (e.g., flour, sugar and industrial oils) to create energy-dense foods that trigger a supra-additive dopamine response from the fat and carbs. 

It doesn’t matter which way you run — towards low carb, low fat, high protein or even low protein — all of these approaches will get you away from the blast zone of Frankenfoods that has been detonated in our food system and is ruining our metabolic health. 

Where Protein Leverage Breaks  

Let’s zoom in on the top of the protein-satiety chart to understand what happens when protein is extremely low. 

People on a very low-protein diet (8%) get a similar satiety outcome as those consuming 28% protein.  

At 15.4% protein, the average American is stuck in the middle of no man’s land — they can move to much lower protein % (i.e. less than 10%) or higher protein % and achieve a similar satiety outcome.   

This helps us understand why some studies don’t see a satiety benefit from increasing protein, especially when they compare low-protein diets with moderate-protein % diets. 

To understand what is happening at the extremes, I’ve broken the data up into four chunks:

  1. Low protein %,
  2. High protein %,
  3. Low-carb, and
  4. Low fat. 

We’ll only look at the low-protein vs high-protein scenarios in this article.  For the low carb vs low-fat analysis, check out Personalised Satiety: Optimising Satiety for Low Carb OR Low Fat.  The table below shows the calories, macros and energy density for each of the subsets of the data. 

CaloriesProteinFatNet carbFibreEnergy Density
(g/2000 cal)
Low protein190512%35%50%3.3%2376
High protein135138%42%16%5.5%981
All Data159623%39%34%4.3%1596

In the next section, we’ll show you how someone on a very low protein diet could theoretically optimise their satiety.  But before you jump to an 8% protein diet to hack your satiety, you should be aware that the lower limit of the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein is 10%.  You may struggle to get adequate protein to maintain lean muscle mass and obtain various micronutrients on an extremely low-protein diet.  Unfortunately, the NHANES data indicate that 9.6% of Americans are not meeting this minimum limit for protein. 

Low Protein (%)

Now I want to show you where protein leverage appears to break down. 

Zooming in further on the left-hand end of the satiety response curve, the chart below shows the satiety response curve for the 100,000 days of data with the lowest protein %.  Moving from 12.5% protein to 7.5% protein aligns with consuming five hundred fewer calories per day!  You’ll eat less if you’re moving away from the hyper-palatable blast zone of ultra-processed foods! 

We know that people who stick to a whole food, plant-based or fruitarian diet tend to be skinny (like Freelee the Banana Girl, who promotes an 80% carb, 10% fat and 10% protein diet).  It’s just had to overeat these foods with such low energy density! 

It’s an energy-intensive process to convert carbs to fat (via de-novo-lipogenesis).  So if you’re eating 80% carbs, not much of that gets stored as fat. 

Satiety Factors

A multivariate analysis enables us to identify the parameters that align with consuming fewer calories and those that are not statistically significant. 

When we run a multivariate analysis on the hundred thousand days of low protein data, protein is nowhere to be seen — energy density is the dominant satiety factor.  For people on a low-protein diet, moving from an energy-dense diet (1.5 kg/2000 calories) to a lower energy-density diet (3.5 kg/2000 calories) aligns with a 12% reduction in energy intake (227 calories less on average). 

Energy density (g/2000 cal)-11.8%1,4593,529-227
Iron (mg/2000 cal)-10.3%922-198
Calcium (mg/2000 cal)-7.3%4641404-140
Potassium (mg/2000 cal)-7.1%1,5323,179-136
Vitamin C (mg/2000 cal)-5.3%16208-103

While energy density dominates the satiety equation with the low protein data, consuming foods with more iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C per calorie also aligns with eating less. 

Nutrient-dense foods tend to have a lower energy density.  It’s not just a matter of adding more water to your food and living on watery soups and smoothies; it’s about maximising nutrient density, which leads to a lower energy density. 

Which Nutrients Do We Crave? 

Interestingly, the micronutrients that tend to dominate the satiety equation (i.e. iron, calcium and potassium) with the lower protein foods are the nutrients that the average American is not getting enough of. 

There is plenty of argument over the required minimum protein intake.  But if you prefer a lower protein diet (e.g. raw vegan, fruitarian, etc.), it’s smart to prioritise foods and meals that contain more of these essential nutrients, which will satisfy your cravings with less energy. 

High Satiety Low Protein Foods

Using the regression coefficients from the multivariate analysis, we can estimate how many calories we might eat from any food or meal based on its nutritional properties and then rank foods from 0 to 100%.  We can reverse engineer the success factors of people who eat less on a low-protein diet. 

The table below shows foods ranked based on these satiety factors optimised for the low protein data. 

FoodSatiety Score
Green Beans100%
Dill Pickles100%
Butternut squash100%
Spaghetti Squash100%
Brussels Sprouts98%
Bell Peppers95%
Bell Pepper93%
Kiwi Fruit78%
Green Peas78%
Baked Potato74%
Sweet Potato71%

These foods have a very low energy density and provide more iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and other nutrients that come with these whole foods. 

Although you may need to eat all day to get enough calories to survive with these foods, they will provide a very high satiety per calorie if you only have access to them.  

High Satiety Low Protein Meals

But we don’t just eat individual foods; we combine them to make meals.  The image below shows some examples of meals from our NutriBooster recipe database that rank well using the low protein satiety criteria. 

High Protein (%)

Next, for some contrast, let’s jump to the other extreme to look at the 100,000 days of data with the highest protein %. 

The chart below shows the protein vs satiety response with the higher protein data showing that a higher protein % aligns linearly with consuming less energy.  Protein leverage is pretty much a perfect model in the higher protein domain.   

Satiety factors

When we look at the multivariate analysis, we see protein % dominates, while energy density only has a very small role in the satiety equation. 

Protein (%)-24%29%47%-334
Fibre (%)-3.5%2%9%-48
Calcium (mg/2000 cal)-3.0%5172,085-42
Potassium (mg/2000 cal)-2.4%2,3616,628-32
Folate (mcg/2000 cal)-1.5%1861,120-21
Sodium (mg/2000 cal)-1.2%1,6875,809-16
Energy density (g/2000 cal)-0.9%3551,896-12
Selenium (mcg/2000 cal)-0.6%108337-8

When all the other factors are considered, moving from 29% to 47% protein aligns with a 24% reduction in energy intake (334 fewer calories).  Meanwhile, moving from an energy-dense diet to a low energy-density diet only has a 1% impact on energy intake if your protein is high. 

While a lower-fat carnivorous diet will be hard to overeat, adding some non-starchy veggies that contain fibre, calcium, potassium, and folate will help you maximise satiety on a higher-protein diet.  These plant-based foods provide the micronutrients that are harder to get from high-protein meat and seafood alone and crush your cravings with fewer calories.  

It’s worth pointing out that most people can’t sustain a very high-protein % diet for long – most people don’t enjoy living on spinach, asparagus, egg whites, chicken breast and liver. But to improve your satiety, you can move from where you are in that direction incrementally to achieve sustainable fat loss.

High-Satiety, High Protein Foods

The table below shows some of the highest-satiety foods when we rank using the high protein satiety factors.  At the top of the list, we still have plenty of non-starchy green veggies (which have a low energy density and provide heaps of fibre, calcium, potassium and folate).  However, this list includes more meat, seafood and dairy than the low-protein food list above. 

FoodSatiety Score
Bok Choy100%
Mustard greens91%
Egg Whites90%
Greek Yogurt (Non-Fat)89%
Cottage cheese (Low-fat)85%
Chicken Breast (Skinless)85%
Beef Steak (Sirloin)84%
Chicken Thigh (Skinless)78%
Chicken Drumstick (Skinless)78%

High-Satiety High-Protein Meals

But we don’t just eat individual foods; we combine them to make meals.  The image below shows some examples of our NutriBooster recipes that rank well using the high satiety, high protein satiety equation. 

For more nutritious high protein recipe ideas, check out our High Protein:Energy NutriBooster recipes which are ideal for someone wanting a super aggressive Protein Sparing Modified Fast.     

Highest Satiety Foods (All Data)

In case you do not want to follow an exceptionally low or super high protein diet, I’ve also run a multivariate analysis of all the data to understand the common factors across all the data. 

Satiety Factors (All Data)

As shown in the MVA results below, if we consider all three hundred thousand days of data in the multivariate analysis, protein % is the dominant satiety factor, with energy density coming in second place, followed by calcium, potassium, iron, fibre and vitamin C. 

Nutrient %lowhighcalories
Protein (%)-28.3%12%37.6%-476
Energy density (g/2000 cal)-10.3%3723326-173
Calcium (mg/2000 cal)-6.0%4891698-101
Potassium (mg/2000 cal)-5.3%17674718-89
Iron (mg/2000 cal)-4.1%925-70
Fibre (%)-3.7%1.8%7.0%-63
Vitamin C (mg/2000 cal)-1.2%19274-19

High Satiety Foods (All Data) 

The tables below show the satiety scores for a range of popular foods.   While plant-based foods tend to have the highest satiety per calorie, they’re hard to eat a lot of.  So once you’ve got your fill of those, you can find high-ranking foods from the seafood, meat and dairy lists.   


FoodSatiety Score
Mustard greens100%
Brussels Sprouts90%
Portabella Mushrooms88%
Green Beans78%
Dill Pickles68%
Green Bell Peppers64%
Butternut squash61%
Green Peas61%
Black Beans60%


Foodsatiety score


Foodsatiety score
Hamburger (95% lean)68%
Roast Beef67%
Beef Steak (Sirloin)67%
Pork Loin66%
Ribeye Filet64%
Turkey Breast63%
Ground Chicken63%
New York Strip Steak62%


Foodsatiety score
Milk (Skim)83%
Greek Yogurt (Non-Fat)78%
Milk (Low Fat)74%
Egg Whites74%
Cottage cheese (Low-fat)69%
Greek Yoghurt (Whole Milk)65%
Cottage Cheese64%

For longer printable lists, check out our optimised food lists in our Optimising Nutrition community here.   

Action Steps  

Before we wrap, let’s look at how you can optimise your satiety based on your preferred dietary approach.   


  • Get adequate protein and minerals, and vitamins without excess energy from fat and carbs. 

Low Protein

  • Focus on nutrient density (particularly foods and meals that contain more iron, potassium, calcium and vitamin C) to optimise satiety, leading to a lower energy density diet. 
  • In our Micros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers to identify their priority nutrients and show them how to get those nutrients from the food they eat every day.

High Protein

Dial back energy from fat and carbs while prioritising protein.  This is the process we guide Optimisers through in our Macros Masterclass


  • We tend to eat the most on a diet with 12% protein and 40% non-fibre carbs (i.e. ultra-processed food).  Moving away from these macros in any direction will improve your satiety and help you eat less. 
  • Protein leverage is the most powerful satiety factor but fails with a very low-protein diet.  
  • When protein is low, energy density and nutrient density (particularly foods with more iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C) become the critical satiety factors.

When our diet has enough protein, protein leverage dominates the satiety equation, but energy density and nutrient density play a supporting role. 


2 thoughts on “Where Protein Leverage Breaks: The Satiety Spectrum”

  1. Would it be safe to say that satiety = fiber? Looking at your food lists, this seems to be the case.

    • Natural foods that contain more fibre are typically more satiating. Interestingly, for the low protein foods, energy density dominates – low energy density foods do have heaps of fibre. For the high protein foods, fibre is a supporting factor.

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