High Protein Diets - Do They Work?
One of my friends recently started a high profile, high protein diet and so i thought it a good chance to write about this topic. I have since gotten him to change his ways and there are several reasons for this which I have outlined below. There is a lot of misinformation out there as i'm sure you are aware. This post aims to put the facts on the table so you can make an informed decision, rather than trying to pursuade you into a way of thinking so you buy a product. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you! Over the years so many different diets have come to our attention that it has become increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. High protein diets first became popular with the Atkins diet many moons ago. Many of you will be familiar with this one and it is quite appealing given that you get to eat all sorts of foods you wouldn’t normally associate with a “diet.”
High protein diets are based on the fact that excess carbohydrates are stored as fat. While this is true, it is not the carbohydrate specifically, but the excess energy it contributes which is going to lead to fat deposits being stored. When it comes to weight loss it is a very simple equation, energy intake – energy expenditure = weight loss/gain. Energy is generally measured in calories or kilojoules. One gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories as does one gram of protein. Fat on the other hand, contains around 9 calories. So now it’s a little bit more obvious why fatty foods make you fat, right? With 9 calories per gram, it doesn’t take a lot to really bump up that energy intake. So, to maintain or lose weight, you will have to do some serious work in the energy expenditure department.
In terms of energy intake, is it going to matter if you eat 40g of carbohydrate and 10g of protein or the other way around? No, it will still add up to 200 calories. Are carbohydrates going to make you fat? Yes, if you eat too much, but the same can be said about protein and of course, fat. So you may be asking ,if it doesn’t matter, why can’t I just eat 50g of protein or 50g of carbs? Let’s not forget the other vitally important part of the nutrition puzzle – micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). When we limit ourselves to a protein only diet, we limit the variety in our foods and therefore the vitamins and minerals we receive through our diet. Problems that high protein diets can create include;
* Lack of fibre in the diet which can lead to bowel disorders and increased risk of colon cancer.
* Animal products like meat, eggs and dairy which are high in protein and often form the basis of such diets are also often high in saturated fat. This can lead to all sorts of other health issues, including heart disease.
* The liver and kidneys are placed under increased strain due to high levels of protein by products.
Why they appear to work Often,when people first start a high protein diet, they will notice very quickly over the first few days, a sharp decrease in weight (1-3kgs). Obviously this is very exciting and would lead people to believe that what they are doing is really working. Unfortunately, there is a very major difference between losing weight and losing body fat. In our muscles and liver, we store a thing called glycogen which is the storage form of glucose (carbohydrate). Depending on a few variables, the human body can store up to around 500g of glycogen. With every gram of glycogen, it requires 3 grams of water for it to maintain its storage form. You can imagine if we starve our body of carbohydrate which is our most preferable and efficient energy source, our body is going to use its storage form (glycogen). This can result in a 1-3kg drop in weight over a very short period of time. But have you lost any fat? No, you have substituted the energy you would normally have consumed in carbs for energy consumed via protein. Remember our equation energy intake – energy expenditure = weight loss/gain.
Some people have achieved some great results in terms of weight loss while using a high protein diet. There could be several reasons for this. Often when people start a new diet it is often accompanied by a magical thing called exercise. You may have heard of it. Swapping some carbs for some protein is very unlikely to have an impact on your fat loss, but increasing your energy expenditure significantly through exercise, sure will. Remember our equation! The second reason some people will have some good results long term, is a little thing called calorie restriction. So yes, they may not have eaten a carb in twelve months but they have also cut back their quantities of food (or their energy intake, remember our equation, remember our equation). So, is it the lack of carbs in the diet or the fact that they now expend more energy than they consume which would attribute to the weight loss? I will let you decide.
Yes, you can lose weight on a high protein diet. You can also lose weight on a “normal” healthy diet. Which is better for you? Eating a wide range of fresh foods including fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts and seeds will provide you not only the energy required to keep up in today’s world, but these foods will also give your body the vitamins, minerals, health and wellbeing required to thrive in it!