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Protein Diet

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Research has suggested that Americans may be eating too many carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, while not getting enough exercise. With the wave of the popular low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets sweeping the nation, one may find it convincing to experiment with such a diet.

Protein Foods

Here is the reasoning:

Excess intake of carbohydrates results in fat storage. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, rapidly spike insulin levels, thereby accelerating the conversion of carbohydrates to fat. By restricting carbohydrate intake altogether, the body is forced to rely on its fat stores for energy and hence the weight loss process begins.

However, it is important to realize that high-protein diets are not appropriate for everyone. In fact, these diets may do more harm than good and leave your intended weight loss sabotaged.

High Protein, Low Carb Diets

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are not appropriate for everyone. In fact, these diets may do more harm than good and leave your intended weight loss sabotaged. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets trigger weight loss by inducing ketosis, a toxic state that also occurs in uncontrolled diabetes and during starvation. Ketones are by-products of the inefficient oxidation, or breakdown of fats. See also: Nutrition for a Ketogenic Diet and/or Low Carb Keytogenic Effects.

Definition of Ketosis

...by the Encyclopedia from NHS Direct Online:

Ketones Symbol Ketosis is the presence in the blood of abnormally high levels of acidic substances called ketones. The normal body fuel is blood glucose. Ketones are produced when there is not enough glucose in the bloodstream, and fats have to be used. When fats are used excessively as fuels, they are eventually converted to ketones. The real danger in ketosis is that ketones are acidic, and high levels of ketones make the blood abnormally acid.

Normally, blood ketone levels are low, but in starvation, untreated diabetes and when you eat high in fat and low in carbs, the levels rise. Ironically, in diabetes, the blood contains large quantities of sugar, but because of the shortage of insulin, this glucose can't be used as fuel.

Mild ketosis may be a feature of excessive morning sickness in pregnancy and crash diets.

Ideally, Fat burns in the Flame of Carbohydrates

When the body lacks sufficient carbohydrates to produce glucose for energy, it is forced to use stored fats for fuel. The brain and other organs are forced to rely on ketones as the primary energy source when the required carbohydrates are missing from the diet.

Unfortunately, there are some not-so-pleasant side effects of ketosis -- among them constipation and bad breath. Short-term weight loss occurs quickly during the initial phase of the high-protein diet, partly because eliminating carbohydrates causes a loss of body fluids. The body is depleting liver and muscle glycogen (stored glucose) as well as excreting toxins via the urine.

Water or Weight Loss?

This water loss occurs within the first 7 to 10 days, and many people mistakenly correlate this rapid weight loss with loss of body fat. The lost weight is really water loss caused by more frequent urination from restricting carbohydrates.

A study published last spring in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated the efficacy of short-term weight loss by means of a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet. The researchers found that those people who followed such a diet lost more weight during the six-month period than those following a low-fat diet. So we now have medical evidence to support the short-term use of high-protein diets.

There is no long-term evidence showing that people maintain weight loss through the use of these diets. In the long run, the diet may contribute to the onset of chronic medical conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney insufficiency.

Milk & Dairy Products

Gallon of Milk The diet lacks milk and dairy products, major sources of dietary calcium, while causing people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine, which may affect bone tissue. Conversely, high-carbohydrate diets -- containing dairy products, beans, leafy green vegetables and fortified juices -- provide adequate dietary calcium, helping to build bone tissue. See also: Keeping Your Bones Strong.

High-protein diets also promote intakes of red meat far above the six ounces per day as recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). It is well-known that meats cooked at high temperatures, including grilling and frying, produce heterocyclic amines, chemical compounds that have been linked to breast and colon cancer.

High-protein diets also increase one's intake of fat, especially saturated fat, cholesterol and protein, to levels well above what is recommended. Fat is a concentrated source of calories in our diet, ounce for ounce providing more than double the calories consumed from protein and carbohydrates. Fat consumed from meat, eggs and cheese is not stored as muscle but instead as body fat. Saturated fat has been linked to cardiovascular disease and colon cancer and it continues to play a role in the growing obesity trend.

Burden on the Kidneys

The kidneys are responsible for clearing the body of waste products produced by protein metabolism. Eating large amounts of protein places a strain on the kidneys, which may lead to long-term consequences.

Right and left kidneys

Finally, high-protein diets are generally low in fiber, as they omit all fruit within the first 14 days and restrict starchy vegetables. Dietary fiber is an essential component of the diet and offers several benefits: It helps lower cholesterol, and it facilitates the excretion of wastes from the body -- thereby maintaining a healthy colon. Therefore, the low-fiber content of the high-protein diets may contribute to cardiovascular disease and may increase one's risk of developing colon cancer.

In short, there is sufficient evidence to support the use of a high-protein diet over the long term. The AHA Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism recently stated in Circulation Journal:

  • High-protein diets are not recommended because they restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients and do not provide the variety of foods needed to adequately meet nutritional needs. Individuals who follow these diets are therefore at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone and liver abnormalities overall.

Healthy Male Figure Americans, on average, consume too much protein even without attempting a high-protein diet. To achieve long-term weight loss, a diet low in fat combined with physical activity is the best strategy. The AHA guidelines urge adults who are trying to lose weight and keep it off to eat no more than 30 percent of total daily calories from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. On the high-protein diet, meeting these goals is impossible.

Moderation the Key

A diet with a moderate carbohydrate content, containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non fat dairy products, is recommended. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals and of course, fiber.

Unfortunately there is no "quick fix" for losing weight and keeping it off. The weight loss equation is still a very simple one: Output must exceed input. You burn off calories by eating fewer calories and exercising more. The most successful weight loss strategies include watching portion sizes, being sensible about meals and snacks, and getting plenty of exercise.

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