The Lowdown on High Protein Diets for Weight Loss

High protein diets are nothing new. Their popularity has cycled in and out of cultures for decades. Who hasn’t heard of The Zone, the Atkins diet, or the Duncan Diet?

With so many various high protein diets around, it can be difficult to pin point exactly what a high protein diet means.  Most health professionals agree that anything above and beyond the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein of 0.8g/kg body weight is considered a high protein diet. For a 150 pound person, the RDA for protein would be 54 grams per day.

High protein diets recommend at least 1.4 to 1.5 g/kg body weight of protein, which is nearly double the RDA.  For the same 150 pound person that would be 95 to 102 grams of protein/day.   The rest of the high-protein diet is often balanced between carbohydrates and fat.

The Pros of a High Protein Diet

  1. High protein diets often result in weight loss.  They tend to be lower in calories which regardless of the diet composition will result in weight loss.
  2. Protein makes people feel fuller and more satisfied for a longer period of time compared to carbohydrates or fat.   This greater satiety leads to a greater control in appetite and fewer calories consumed throughout the day.   A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition found that subjects who replace protein for carbohydrates ate anywhere from 200 to 400 calories less per day.

The Cons of a High Protein Diet

  1. The majority of weight lost on high protein diets tends to be water weight and temporary.  High protein diets are often low in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, so much so that the body has the capacity to store carbohydrates attached to water in the liver and muscles. 

    When consumption of carbohydrates is low the body begins to break down these stored carbohydrates, resulting in rapid weight loss from the stored carbohydrates and water.

  2. When the body is not getting enough energy from carbohydrates, the body must convert the excess protein and fat into fuel for the body.   This can put strain on the liver and kidneys, requiring them to do more work and may result in ketosis.

    Ketosis is a dangerous condition in which the body has become too acidic, as the result of fat being broken down to do carbohydrates job. Ketosis is associated with irritability, headaches, enhanced kidney work, and heart palpitations.

  3. High protein diets are also often unbalanced and sometimes restrictive of entire food groups.  They often fail to meet essential nutrient needs for certain vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  The high amount of protein usually also means a high intake of fat, cholesterol and saturated fat.

    The American Heart Association recommends an intake of no more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.  Diets providing 16 ounces of lean meat and 4 ounces of cheese per day can provide almost double the amount of dietary cholesterol recommended per day.

The Bottom Line:

  • High protein diets do promote weight loss but caution is advised.
  • High protein diets do promote weight reduction due to lower caloric intake, dehydration, and loss of stored carbohydrates and water. Any diet that provides fewer calories than the body needs will promote weight reduction, regardless of diet composition.
  • High protein diets often provide an excessive intake of unhealthy cholesterol, fats, and saturated fats. High protein diets can also cause the liver and kidneys to be overworked and may result in ketosis.

The best approach for weight loss is always to incorporate a healthy, balanced diet that fits within your caloric lifestyle needs.

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