High protein diets have gained popularity in the last couple of decades. There are many different versions, making some healthier than others. However, there are differing opinions as to the safety and effectiveness of these diets. In this article, you will learn how safe these diets are and how you can follow a high protein diet safely, if you choose to do so.
The Idea Behind High Protein Diets
The idea behind high protein diets is somewhat simple. High protein diets have people consume high amounts of protein, between 25 and 40 percent of their daily calories, while restricting carbohydrate intake. Restricting carbohydrate intake causes the body to run out of the most readily available fuel in the body – glucose. Once the body runs out of glucose, it is forced to use other fuels, like muscle tissue and fat. However, those on high protein diets are supposed to lose less muscle and more fat. However, it's important to keep in mind that not all high protein/low carb diets are created equal.
Typically, when someone restricts calories in an effort to lose weight, they will lose some muscle tissue. However, multiple studies have indicated that those on high protein/low carbohydrate diets experience less loss of muscle tissue than those on calorie restricted diets. The reason is that when someone is consuming a high protein diet, the body is flooded with more than enough protein to fuel the body and keep muscles from wasting.
One of the biggest benefits from a high protein/low carb diet is the weight loss. In the first couple of weeks, typically when carbs are the most restricted, people lose a significant amount of weight. Some of this weight is from lost water, but the majority of the weight after the first couple of days is fat. For someone who is looking to jump start a new, healthy lifestyle, this could be extremely beneficial.
A high protein/low carb diet may be beneficial to those who are diabetics or are borderline diabetics. The reason is that carbohydrates cause blood sugar spikes that a person with diabetes can't handle. Excess blood sugar requires increased amounts of insulin for the body to be able to use it, and anything the body can't use would be stored as fat. But those with diabetes can't break down the extra sugar, which can cause life threatening consequences if insulin isn't supplemented. So by following a high protein/ low carb diet, those with diabetes or those at risk of developing diabetes, can reduce the strain on the body as it tries to break down the extra sugar.
There are some health concerns associated with high protein diets, but these concerns vary based upon exactly which diet is followed.
One of the main concerns is that some high protein diets are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. This is certainly true of some high protein/low carb diets, but not for all of them. Animal based proteins can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, but there are many forms of protein that are low in fat or even fat free. Fish or lean chicken are low in saturated fat and high in protein. In the case of fish, the fat contained in the fish is monounsaturated fat, which is the good kind that does good things for the body. There are also vegetable based proteins, like legumes and soy, that don't have the problems with saturated fat and cholesterol.
Some high protein/low carb diets are also deficient in nutrients. Many people think that all carbs are bad when on a high protein diet, but this is not the case. One of the most beneficial carbohydrates that people consume is fiber, and most people are woefully deficient in fiber. The same thing goes with vitamins and minerals. Because of this, many high protein diets recommend that people take a multi- vitamin and mineral supplement, but supplements don't provide the same synergistic benefits that people get when they consume the nutrients in the food they eat. They are ok, but not great.
Some people can also have difficulties digesting large amounts of protein and this can cause a host of gastrointestinal problems. This is one of the reasons why it's so important to consume plenty of fiber. Fiber keeps the digestive system moving as well as lowering cholesterol in the body.
Healthy Food Choices
For those who choose to consume a high protein/low carb diet, they need to be very careful about the food choices they make.
Cutting down on refined carbohydrates and increasing protein will prevent muscle loss. But people still need to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables. Cutting out starchy fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes and bananas is fine because the nutrients found in those foods can be found in other fruits and vegetables. In fact, many high protein/low carb diets advocate people eating a large amount of fruits and vegetables with their protein so that they don't become nutrient deficient. If people are concerned about becoming nutrient deficient even when eating their colorful fruits and vegetables, they can also look into a daily, multivitamin.
If undertaken properly, a high protein/low carb diet is generally considered a safe and healthy way to maximize weight loss efforts. The evidence is still out as to whether or not highly restrictive high protein diets are safe over a long period of time, but most experts agree that these diets are nearly impossible to stick to for a long period of time because they are so restricted. If a diet calls for entire food groups to be eliminated from the diet, then it most likely is not only unsustainable, but unhealthy as well. If you’re still unsure as to whether a high protein diet is right for you speak to your doctor for possible alternatives.