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From HeartInfo

The Reincarnation of the High-Protein Diet

by Lisa Hark, Ph.D., R.D.  
and Lisa Stollman, M.A., R.D., C.D.E.

(10/10/97 HeartInfo) - Are the new high-protein diets the latest answer to weight loss or just another fad?

Here are the facts:
If youíve been in bookstores, youíve probably seen new diet books that boast the promise of losing weight on high-protein diets and claim carbohydrates are dangerous to your health. But trying to lose weight and lower cholesterol with a high-protein diet is not your best bet. The high-protein hype started in the Ď60s with the Atkins diet. In theí 70s, it was reincarnated as the Stillman diet. Then in the Ď80s it surfaced again as the popular Scarsdale diet. Despite high proteinís questionable past, a new crop of high-protein diet books, such as The Zone and Dr. Atkinís New Diet Revolution have caught the public's attention again. Todayís high-protein diet has been modified to include 40% of total calories from carbohydrates, a little more than what was advocated in the past, with fat and protein each providing 30% of total calories.

Keep in mind that all the major professional health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Cancer Society, endorse a diet that is composed of 10% to 15% protein, 55% to 60% carbohydrates, and 25% to 30% fat.

Why High Protein?
The resurgence of high-protein diets is based primarily on the misconception that carbohydrates alone cause weight gain. All the best-selling high-protein diet books insist that carbohydrates and insulin are villains in the battle of the bulge. These programs claim eating carbohydrates triggers the secretion of insulin, causing carbohydrates to be taken to the cells and stored as fat instead of being used for energy. Unfortunately, these claims rely on unpublished research or studies which have not been peer reviewed or controlled. For this reason, the scientific community does not take them seriously.

All calories from are converted into glucose to be stored for energy. Glucose is stored as fat only when you have consumed excess calories. So itís your overall calorie intake and not carbohydrates that cause fat storage and weight gain.  Besides, foods high in protein, such as meats and cheeses, are also high in saturated fat. These foods are known to increase cholesterol levels when eaten in excess.

High-Protein Pitfalls: Quick Loss, Short Term
High-protein diets have always had the reputation of producing quick weight loss. However, quick often doesnít mean lasting. Also, most initial weight loss from protein diets is water rather than fat. People who remain on high-protein diets also lose weight because the diet restricts carbohydrate calories such as fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, and legumes. By eliminating so many foods from your diet, you automatically reduce calorie intake, resulting in a negative calorie balance and weight loss. Unfortunately, such diets also reduce fiber consumption and essential vitamins and minerals.

A look at populations with overall good health and a long lifespan shows their eating habits support a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein diet, low in fat. The Japanese eat a diet abundant in rice and vegetables with only small amounts of protein and have a very low incidence of heart disease. Seventh Day Adventists are strict vegetarians who consume mainly grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and also have a lower incidence of heart disease compared with the general population. Seventh Day Adventists do not smoke cigarettes and exercise regularly, further contributing to their overall good health.

Healthy Alternatives
If you want to manage your weight and cholesterol to improve and maintain good health, skip fad diets and stick with a low fat diet which accounts for less than 30% of your total calories. If you have heart disease, a diet less than 25% of fat calories will help improve your health. Make sure your diet includes plenty of whole grains, beans, cereals, low fat and non-fat dairy products and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Protein foods should be limited to approximately six ounces per day, preferably of lean meat, poultry, fish, low fat dairy products and vegetarian sources.

To determine your protein needs:

  1. First calculate your calorie needs. If you are overweight, multiply your current weight by 10. If you are at your desired weight, multiply your current weight by 15. Example: 160 lbs x 10 = 1600 kcals/day. Consume no more than the calculated amount each day.
  2. To find your protein needs, multiply your caloric needs by 12% (.12).
  3. Divide that number by 4 to see how many grams of protein you should consume daily. Example: 1600 kcal/day X .12 = 192. Divide by 4 calories per gram = 48 grams of protein.

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