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High Protein Diets:  A Summary
Good Housekeeping; one of a series of 6 summaries of popular diets. For the balance, see Nutrition and Diet.

 How they started: Serious athletes and bodybuilders had long been high-protein proponents. Then in the 1970's, The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet and Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution hit the scene, both based on the theory that too many carbohydrates prevent the body from burning fat and dieters should, therefore, fill up on protein. Scientists slammed the plans, and for awhile, carbs reigned as the diet food of choice. Now high-protein-diet books like The Zone and Protein Power are flying out of bookstores and Atkins is back, pushing butter-drenched lobster as diet food on an infomercial.

Length: Indefinite.

What you eat: On the popular Atkins plan, large quantities of protein in unrestricted amounts, including meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, and cheese. Pasta, bread, and foods with large amounts of refined sugar are eliminated. Breakfast may be bacon and eggs (no toast, no juice); lunch, a small salad and double cheeseburger, hold the bun; dinner, a salad with blue cheese dressing, and steak or fried chicken. The Zone pushes low-carb veggies such as broccoli, green beans, and fruit, along with protein, and limits bread, pasta, grains, corn, and potatoes. Protein Power adherents can eat deep-fried pork rinds but must avoid most fruit ("carbohydrate minefields").

Why people love them: Pounds drop off very quickly in the beginning, mostly due to water loss. And meat fans get to indulge endlessly.

Pluses: "High-protein foods like meat and cheese may slow the rate of absorption of carbohydrates, so that blood sugar levels remain steady and keep hunger at bay," says Kelly Streit, R.D., a nutritionist in Portland, OR.

Pitfalls: Protein-rich diets tend to be chock-full of saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Another side effect: When carb calories are cut drastically for several days, the body starts burning fatty acids for fuel; these release into the bloodstream chemicals called ketones that could cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and bad breath, explains John P. Foreyt, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Research Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine. "Too much protein can also tax the kidneys, which go into overdrive trying to process and excrete the nitrogen in protein." Over time, this may cause permanent damage.

Can this diet be saved? No. "A super-high protein diet isn't advisable," says Foreyt. But eating moderate amounts of protein throughout the day, as part of a well-balanced diet, can help suppress appetite. Opt for lean sources like poultry, fish, peas, beans, lentils, low-fat yogurt, and skim milk.

 

High Protein Diets
article from the HCRC web site

Can a person eat unlimited calories, and still lose weight, as long as they severely restrict carbohydrates? 

No, they cannot. The basis of ketogenic diets, such as the Atkins Diet, is a severe restriction of carbohydrate calories, which simply causes a net reduction in total calories. Since carbohydrate calories are limited, intake of fat usually increases. This high fat diet causes ketosis (increased blood ketones from fat breakdown) which suppresses hunger, and thus contributes to caloric restriction. 

Low carbohydrate diets are also characterized by initial rapid weight loss, primarily due to excessive water loss. A decreased carbohydrate intake causes liver and muscle glycogen depletion, which causes a large loss of water, since about three parts of water are stored with one part of glycogen. Also, restricting carbohydrate intake reduces the kidney's ability to concentrate urine, leading to an increased excretion of sodium. All these factors combine to cause a powerful but temporary diuresis. 

Dieters cherish this rapid initial weight loss and assume it represents fat loss. Actually, their body fat stores are virtually untouched. And, as the body adjusts for the water deficit, the weight loss slows or ceases. The dieter often becomes frustrated and abandons the diet. Individuals who do stick with it may lose weight due to the caloric restriction mentioned above. 

Complications associated with low carbohydrate, high protein diets include ketosis, dehydration, electrolyte loss, calcium depletion, weakness (due to inadequate dietary carbohydrate), nausea (due to ketosis), and possibly kidney problems. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are other problems in such unbalanced crash diet regimens. Even Dr. Atkins, the author of both old and new versions of Diet Revolution, admits that his diet doesn't supply enough vitamin and minerals and recommends that people take supplements. 

Gout is another potential side effect, since the uric acid in the blood increases as the uric acid competes with ketones for excretion. This higher blood uric acid level can also increase the risk of kidney failure. Dr. Atkins does warn that people with kidney problems shouldn't follow his diet, but he doesn't mention that the diet might produce these disorders. 

Lastly, the risk of coronary heart disease may be higher in susceptible persons who stay on the diet a long time, due to increased consumption of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

 

High-Protein "Miracle" Diets:   Three reasons why they fail

From the Mayo Clinic web site.

American essayist H. L. Mencken once quipped that, "For every complicated problem there is a simple solution--and it is wrong." His observation is still timely when applied to the current wave of miracle diets. 

Weight loss hinges on many factors, including heredity, habits, and beliefs about the "right" way to eat. Faced with this complexity, many people long for a simple fix. Authors of fad diets are quick to respond, circulating their ideas through popular books, lectures, and talk shows. 

High-protein diets share common claims

   Books that promote a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet are "hot" right now. Examples include Protein Power, Enter the Zone, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, and The 5 Day Miracle Diet

Though these plans differ in details, they share some common claims:  

In short, these diets say "hello meat, poultry, fish, and eggs and good-bye fruits, vegetables, and grains."

Three reasons to doubt the claims

   Actually, the weight of scientific evidence contradicts the hype about high protein: 

  Quick fixes seldom lead to long-term change

   There's little evidence that people stick with any miracle diet over the long-term. Too often, diets fail to give people the tools needed for coping with common dilemmas. 

"At first a diet stimulates interest because you're doing something different," says Jennifer K. Nelson, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. "But in the long run, you've still got to face that  when you go to mom's for home-made ice cream, or that vacation when you're on the road and you stop at a fast-food place. Then the diet becomes a ball and chain. The best program equips you to deal with these common situations," says Nelson. 

So far, research shows that the slow-and-steady approach to weight loss works best:

Such ideas are hardly fodder for the best-seller lists. Even so, this formula is more likely to lighten your load in the long run.  

More on good diet and nutrition can be found in the following articles:

and at the Oasis Diet & Nutrition Resource Center.

 

The Reincarnation of the High-Protein Diet
by Lisa Hark, Ph.D., R.D. and Lisa Stollman, M.A., R.D., C.D.E.

(10/10/97 HeartInfo) - Are the new high-protein diets the latest answer to weight loss or just another fad?  Here are the facts.

If you’ve been in bookstores, you’ve probably seen the new diet books that boast the promise of losing weight on high-protein diets and claim that high carbohydrates are dangerous to your health. But trying to lose weight and lower cholesterol via a high-protein diet is not your best bet. The high-protein hype started in the ‘60s with the Atkins diet. In the’ 70s, it was reincarnated as the Stillman diet. Then in the ‘80s it peaked again as the popular Scarsdale diet. But despite high protein’s questionable past, a new crop of high-protein diet books, such as The Zone and Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution have caught the public's attention again. Today’s high-protein diet has been modified to include 40% of total calories from carbohydrates, a little more than what was advocated in the past, with fat and protein each providing 30% of total calories.

Keep in mind that all of the major professional health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Cancer Society, endorse a diet that is composed of 10% to 15% protein, 55% to 60% carbohydrates, and 25% to 30% fat.

Why High Protein?

The resurgence of high-protein diets is based primarily on the misconception that carbohydrates alone induce weight gain. All of the best-selling high-protein diet books insist that carbohydrates and insulin are the true villains in the battle of the bulge. These programs claim that eating carbohydrates triggers the secretion of insulin, which causes carbohydrates to be taken to the cells and stored as fat instead of being used for energy. Unfortunately, these claims rely on unpublished research or studies that have not been peer reviewed or controlled, meaning they have little respect in the scientific community.

The truth is, all calories from food are converted into glucose to be stored for energy. Glucose is stored as fat only when you have consumed excess calories. So it’s your overall calorie intake and not carbohydrates that cause fat to be stored. And besides, foods that are high in protein, such as meats and cheeses, are also high in saturated fat, which we now know will increase blood cholesterol levels if eaten in excess.

High-Protein Pitfalls: Quick Loss, Short Term

High-protein diets have always had the reputation of being able to produce quick weight loss. However, quick doesn’t mean lasting and most of the initial loss from protein diets is water rather than fat. People who manage to stay on high-protein diets also lose weight because these diets restrict carbohydrate calories such as fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, and legumes. By eliminating so many foods from your diet, you automatically reduce your calorie intake, resulting in a negative calorie balance and therefore weight loss. Unfortunately, you also reduce your intake of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

If you look at populations where people have good health and a long lifespan, you’ll find that their eating habits support the wisdom of a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein diet which is also low in fat. The Japanese eat a diet abundant in rice and vegetables with only small amounts of protein and have a very low incidence of heart disease. Seventh Day Adventists are strict vegetarians who consume mainly grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and also have a lower incidence of heart disease compared to the general population. Of course Seventh Day Adventists do not smoke cigarettes and exercise regularly as well.

Healthy Alternatives

If you want to manage your weight and your blood cholesterol level, skip the fad diets and stick with a low fat diet which accounts for less than 30% of your total calories. If you have heart disease, a diet less than 25% fat calories is probably to your advantage. Make sure your diet includes plenty of whole grains, beans, cereals, low fat and non-fat dairy products and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. Protein foods should be limited to approximately six ounces per day, preferably of lean meat, poultry, fish, low fat dairy products and vegetarian sources.

To determine your protein needs: