High Protein Diets – Health Risks
Many people ask about High-Protein weight loss diets, which also go under the names of the Atkin’s Diet, the Carbohydrate Counting Diet, and the Drinking Man’s Diet. The original version of the Grapefruit Diet which also used only protein, but included the use of grapefruit, can also be classified as a High-Protein diet.
Basic Principles of High-Protein Weight Loss Diets
High-protein weight loss diets are all more or less based on the use of large quantities of protein foods of animal origin, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese and milk products, and the exclusion of all carbohydrate foods. Some of these diets permit the use of the so-called ‘free vegetables and fruit’ which contain only small quantities of carbohydrate (e.g lettuce, cucumber, grapefruit, strawberries, etc).
2 Basic Principles of High-Protein Diets
- The human body needs a source of energy and carbohydrates are the best source of energy available to us.
- If the body is deprived of its main source of energy, it has to burn up its available energy store of fat and you will lose weight.
Do High-Protein Weight Loss Diets Work?
The answer to this question is, “Yes, they do lead to weight-loss which can be quite substantial in some cases, but (and here lies the rub) the weight is lost at a terrible price, which can in some cases, even kill the dieter!”
This is what happens when you deprive your body of its carbohydrate energy source:
- In the absence of carbohydrate fuel, the human body is forced to burn body and dietary fat and protein to fulfil its energy needs.
- The breakdown products of burning large quantities of body fat for fuel are called ketones. They will begin to accumulate in the body.
- A build-up of ketones in the body can cause all kinds of damage to vital organs such as the liver and the kidneys. The build-up deranges the body’s balance of acids and alkalines, causing a condition called acidosis.
- When the levels of ketones in the body reach dangerous proportions, the dieter finds him- or herself in the same kind of state as a diabetic who has not used any insulin. Unless immediate treatment is applied, he/she can slip into a coma, which may result in death.
So although you will lose body fat on a high-protein weight loss diet, you will be exposing your body to a great many risks. You may damage your kidneys, and your liver, you will be depleting your muscle tissue and you may even die. The latter risk is well documented and regular reports are published in the medical literature describing deaths that result from the use of high-protein weight loss diets.
Other Side-Effects of High Protein Diets
- Unpleasant body odour and bad breath – if you eat only protein foods, then you start to smell like a carnivore – the bad smell is caused by the ketones that accumulate in the body.
- Increased risk of high blood fat levels – high-protein foods are often also high in animal fats, particularly saturated fats and cholesterol, which raise blood fat levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
- Loss of muscle tissue – you will agree that this is not the object of weight-reduction diets and it is ironic that the more carbohydrate you cut out of the diet and the more protein you eat to slim, the lower your body protein stores will be, because you are burning protein foods as fuel.
- Risk of deficiency diseases – cutting out fruits and vegetables, which are our main source of antioxidant vitamins such as beta carotene, and vitamin C, protective bioflavonoids, and certain minerals, to eliminate carbohydrate from the diet, exposes you to the risk of developing a whole range of deficiency diseases; cutting out wholegrain cereals also exposes you to the risk of developing vitamin B and E deficiencies constipation – carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, grains and cereals, particularly the wholegrain varieties, are the main source of dietary fibre in the diet; eliminating these foods will inevitably cause severe constipation, which in the long-run can lead to diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and may even make you more susceptible to bowel cancer.
Indications that High-Protein Diets are Not Good For You
One of the most telling indications that High-protein Slimming Diets are not good for you, is the fact that most of the diet books that advocate such diets, always warn that you should only use the diet for one, or a maximum of two weeks, at a time. The writers know that these diets are fraught with negative effects, so they cover themselves against law suits, etc, by issuing these warnings. If you use these diets and suffer adverse effects, the blame rests with you for using the diet for too long.
Alternatives to High-Protein Weight Loss Diets
The best alternative to High-protein Slimming Diets, is to use a balanced diet with a low fat, high dietary fibre and high carbohydrate content, and to increase the amount of aerobic exercise you do. Use plenty of wholegrain, unprocessed grains, high-bran cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, low-fat or skimmed milk and dairy products, legumes and small quantities of polyunsaturated oil or margarine.
Make sure that you don’t add fat to the diet by using cooking methods or salad dressings and sauces that have a low fat content – grill, poach, and stew, and use low-fat salad dressings, and low-fat yoghurt mixed with fresh herbs to add flavour to baked potatoes and salads. And get active – walk or jog, join a good gym or start doing water aerobics now that the weather is getting warmer.
The goals of a good slimming diet should be to reduce body fat, preserve lean muscle tissue, and keep you healthy and fit. Any diets, including the high-protein weight loss diets that are potentially risky and can harm your health, should be avoided.
Source: Dr I.V. van Heerden, Registered Dietician.
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