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Fact or Fiction?
"High protein diets are great for losing weight."
by Don Bennett DAS

High protein, low carbohydrate diets will make you lose weight, but in a very unhealthy way. Now, if you're thinking, "That can't be true, some of these diets were created by doctors, and there are high protein diet books and high protein diet products in the stores..." So what! The first step to caring about your health is realizing that the doctors that promote high protein diets are people, and some people just want to make a buck and don't care about your health. A sad fact of life, but a fact nevertheless. And stores are in business to sell things. As long as these things don't instantly kill you, and as long as there's a demand, they'll be available for sale. If these products and diet plans harm you slowly, over a long period of time, who cares. I do. I hope you do too.

Weight loss via a high protein diet is a quick fix. But there are healthy and safe ways to lose weight (and keep it off) without negatively affecting your health. (More on this in a moment.)

To understand why high protein diets are harmful, you need to understand how the body works. Carbs are converted by the body into glucose, which is the optimal fuel for the body (especially the brain). Our cells use this fuel, but once they've had enough, the excess glucose is converted, by the liver, into glycogen and stored in the muscles as a reserve. When there is no more room for glycogen storage, the excess is converted into triglycerides which are circulated in the blood and taken up by the fat cells, and stored as fat. One of the reasons you lose weight on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet is that when the body is deprived of glucose from carbs, it must turn to fat for fuel, and so you lose weight. Fats (and proteins) are not as efficient a fuel as carbohydrates, and do not "burn" as clean as glucose from carbohydrates. You will lose weight, but at the expense of your health. Here are some of the things that happen.

The high protein foods recommended for these diets are animal foods. These foods must be cooked. Cooking destroys nutrients (one of the main reasons diets don't work in the first place; the body is continually hungry, not for fuel, but for nutrients, which are lacking in cooked food, so it keeps craving food). Animal proteins contribute to heart disease, immune dysfunction, colon and reproductive cancer, prostate enlargement, diabetes, and a host of less serious conditions.

Animal foods are also high in arachidonic acid, a dangerous fat which causes the release of a hormone that produces inflammatory conditions which can lead to arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn's disease. It can also intensify the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, PMS, and certain auto-immune diseases.

Additionally, animal proteins contain two strong amino acids, methionine and cysteine, that need to be neutralized to keep the body's blood pH at a normal level (if your blood can't transport oxygen to your cells, there can be no life). The best and most plentiful neutralizing agent the body has at its disposal is calcium (from the bones). The more animal protein you eat, the more calcium is taken from your bones, and the higher your risk of osteoporosis (and guess what: Milk contains animal protein!) Also, cysteine is the precursor to homocysteine, which causes cholesterol to build up on the artery walls, leading to Coronary Artery Disease. It turns out your cholesterol level is not as good an indicator of cardiovascular health as is your homocysteine level. It's not the cholesterol in your blood that's bad, it's the cholesterol stuck to your artery walls that's dangerous. Many heart attack victims have "normal" serum cholesterol levels.

On a high protein diet, some of the weight loss can be from loss of muscle. Once you are no longer supplying the body with a steady source of glucose, the body turns to its stores of glycogen in the muscles. When glycogen is liberated from muscle tissue, water is also released. The quick weight loss experienced is from the breakdown of muscle to get to the glycogen, and the accompanying water release. The more water you lose, the more weight you lose. The downside is dehydration, and loss of muscle.

As you lose lean muscle mass, your Basal Metabolic Rate is lowered (BMR is the amount of calories you burn in a 24-hour period at rest). The long-term effect from a lower BMR is that you will ultimately have to eat less or you will begin to gain weight. Obviously as muscle mass is lost, you lose strength. Not so obvious is the stress placed on your immune system as it tries to detoxify your body from the poisonous by-products of protein metabolism such as ammonia. Low fiber/high protein foods also cause water to be pulled away from the colon to help flush out these poisons, which can cause constipation, and intensify dehydration - a causative factor in disease.

And as if all this isn't bad enough, animal foods contain substances which are not conducive to good health: growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides to name a few.

So why do carbs get such a bad rap? Basically there are good carbs (simple carbohydrates as in fruits and veggies) and not so good carbs (complex carbohydrates as in grain products). Simple carbs taste sweet to your tongue, complex carbs taste bland to your tongue. Good carb foods have soluble fiber. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the cells, which results in less triglycerides being produced and stored as fat. And high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables have natural sugars, as opposed to processed, refined sugars, which play havoc with your body's blood sugar regulation system, and can be stored as fat. (But keep in mind that a glass of apple juice, which lacks fiber, will have a different effect on sugar absorption than would eating the apples used to make the juice - fiber is key!) Animal products have zero fiber, and since the more soluble fiber in your diet the better, animal products aren't the best food choice.

Fruits and vegetables are also high water content foods as compared to animal foods. The more water your food contains, the better. People who eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables, and little to no animal foods, are some of the slimmest, healthiest people around. So why isn't a fruit and vegetable diet popularized as a weight loss diet? People are addicted to animal food products. Those who create diet plans know this. They also know that if they give the people what they want, they'll be successful. They are not interested in giving people that which is good for them. But if you can break the animal food addiction, eventually you'll lose your desire for those foods, and as your body regains its health, your cravings will be for "the good stuff".

One fact that seems to be ignored by those who tout high protein diets is that cultures where quality simple carbohydrates make up a large part of their diet have some of the thinnest and healthiest people on earth.

As far as calories go, you don't have to count them to be slim. 1000 calories from donuts has a much different effect on the body than 1000 calories from watermelon. One is much better at putting on fat... guess which one.

And think about this: During your entire life, from birth to death, when do you think you need the most protein? Answer: As an infant. It is during the first few years of life that you experience the most growth. Growth is heavily dependent on protein. If your diet consisted of nothing but mother's milk (which is an infant's natural diet), that diet consisted of less than two percent protein! So why would you need more than that as an adult? Hmmm. Personally, I haven't had any animal protein in over 20 years, and I feel better than ever! Where do I get my protein? About half of my daily requirement is met by my body's recycling of damaged proteins (the body breaks down non-functional proteins into their constituent amino acids, discards the damaged ones, and files the good ones away for when it needs to make more proteins). The rest of my protein needs are met with fruits and vegetables (yes, they contain protein), and the occasional nuts and seeds.

A lack of protein is not what contributes to the ill-health experienced by so many people in this country... it's the excessive protein consumption.

Bottom line, the more fruits and vegetables, and the less animal foods in your diet, the healthier you will be. Yes, there are books written by doctors that say eat a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, but there are books that recommend you drink your own urine for optimal health. Let the buyer/reader beware!

Related articles:
Dangers of the Atkins Diet
Protein Propaganda (a very compelling and excellent explanation of protein myths)
High Carbs, Low Carbs, Simple Carbs, No Carbs

High vs Low Protein Diets

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