If youve been in bookstores, youve
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 proteins
questionable past, a new crop of high-protein diet books, such as The Zone and Dr.
Atkins New Diet Revolution have caught the public's attention again.
Todays 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.
To determine your protein needs:
- You must first calculate your calorie needs. If you are overweight,
multiply your current weight by 10. If you are at your desired weight, multiply your
current weight by 15. Example: 160 lbs x 10 = 1600 kcals/day
- To find your protein needs: Multiply your caloric needs by 12% (.12).
- Divide that number by 4 to see how many grams of protein you should
consume daily. Example: 1600 kcal/day X .12 = 192. Divide by 4 calories per gram = 48
grams of protein.
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.
Reader Beware...these claims rely on unpublished
research or studies that have not been peer reviewed or controlled, meaning they have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
So, its 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 doesnt 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, youll 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.
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.