Benefits of Following a High Protein Diet for Weight Loss

If you're someone who likes to eat meat and lots of fried foods and you hate vegetables, a high-protein diet will make you a happy camper. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Fried chicken for lunch. Steak for dinner.

Before considering a high protein diet, you should read beyond the books to what the American Heart Association (AHA) has to say. The AHA has issued a warning about the dangers of high-protein diets, saying that they have the potential to put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly heart attacks.

"There are no long-term or short-term studies proving their effectiveness.

High-protein diets have been around since the early 1960s but are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to several best-selling diet books (including one by the father of high-protein diets himself, Dr. Robert Atkins.) A study that was reported in The AHA publication Circulation compared five different diets - the Atkins' diet, the Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters and the Stillman diet.

According to the AHA nutrition committee, the Protein Power diet has the highest fat content with 54 percent of total calories from fat. Atkins has the next highest with 53 percent, and Stillman, the Zone and Sugar Busters have 33 percent, 30 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

These high protein diet plans advocate that you severely restrict carbohydrates and replace them with high-protein foods. In respect, you bring on the meat, eggs and dairy and cut out carrots, potatoes, and most other vegetables.

The AHA isn't the only health organization to criticize low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says these meal plans are "not in sync" with its nutrition recommendations.

Are High Protein Diets the Answer?

Protein diets seem to work initially because "when you eat more protein and fat, the body produces ketone bodies, which cause you to initially lose fluid. The initial 'weight loss' is actually water."

Ketone bodies are the fuel our bodies get from fat. If we eat too few carbohydrates or we starve ourselves, ketone bodies build up in the bloodstream. Ketosis is the condition of having too many ketone bodies in the bloodstream, which must be excreted in the urine and this is what causes fluid loss. After time, ketosis causes a loss of appetite and nausea, which eventually results in consuming fewer calories. So, the real reason people lose weight is not because of some magical combination of protein and carbohydrate. Rather, they eat less and have a dramatic loss of body fluids.

High-protein diets also cause dehydration for this very reason. Most high-protein diets can increase the health risks listed below:

  • High-protein diets are high in fat and, therefore, can increase the risk of heart disease.  Since it's difficult to follow a high-protein diet without eating a lot of meat, people will likely be consuming more saturated fat. It is advisable to limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your total calories, which is difficult, if not impossible, on many high-protein diet regimens that focus on mostly eating meats. Meat, eggs and dairy products contain saturated fats, and eating too much of them can raise artery-clogging cholesterol levels in the blood, a known risk factor for heart disease
  • High-protein diets can accelerate the development of diabetic kidney disease. When protein is broken down in the body, the kidneys process the by-products, putting a tremendous strain on the kidneys.

  • High-protein diets can be bad for your bones. High-protein diets eliminate or severely restrict certain fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which help protect against osteoporosis.

  • High-protein diets lack critical nutrients. Restricting carbohydrates means you restrict plant-based foods, which are rich in "phytochemicals." These phytochemicals are rich in anti-oxidants and offer protection against cancer and other diseases, such as hypertension. Also, vitamin and mineral deficiencies will more than likely occur because of the limitation of healthful, nutrient-dense foods.

Bottom line is if you’re a healthy individual you might do well by cutting out some bad carbs and eating a higher protein diet. However, following this type of diet for a long period of time will likely cause health problems in the future. A better approach would be to follow a balanced diet eating a variety of foods from different sources and cutting out the bad foods like sugar, white breads, refined flour, foods that contain hydrogenated oils, and pastas to name a few.

If you’re an individual with one or more medical ailments, then you should consult with your physician or other professional to get advice on the type of diet you should follow for your specific situation, goals, and current fitness level.