Feature Archive

Protein Power

What It Is

The popularity of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets is at an all-time high, thanks to a number of best-selling books. Among them is Protein Power, which graced the New York Times best-seller list for over a year, sparking controversy with its assertion that the mainly carbohydrate-based diet --fruits, vegetables, and starches -- is responsible for rampant obesity and heart disease, not the traditionally named culprits such as red meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Written by a married couple of MDs, Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades, the book promises that you will "feel fit and boost your health -- in just weeks!" The cover includes praise from one of their diet-expert-author competitors, Barry Sears, author of The Zone, who calls their book nothing less than "The Nutritional Primer of the Nineties."

What sets Protein Power apart is the wealth of historical information about low-carbohydrate diets and how these have influenced dieters galore, ever since William Banting wrote his Letter on Corpulence in the mid 1800s. The Eades also provide scientific explanations for the functions of insulin and glucagons, the major hormones involved in the food-to-fuel process, along with plenty of encouragement and practical suggestions, such as what to order in a French restaurant or fast food joint.

What You Can Eat

Those of you who crave steak, eggs, and cheese will have a great time on this diet. Vegetarians will not, because tofu is the main source of protein allowed non-meat eaters. And as even the most dedicated know, tofu three times a day can get tiresome.

To determine your daily protein quotient, the authors take you through a series of steps and measurements to determine your body fat and lean body mass, as well as ask you to assess your physical activity level.

You may choose your protein from fish, poultry, red meat, low-fat cheese (cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella, Muenster), eggs, and tofu. If you want to lose a lot of fat (the authors don't say you lose weight, but fat instead) or correct a health problem, you can add only 30 grams of carbohydrate, or less, divided throughout the day. If your need to lose is not so great, you can up that quota to 55 grams per day. Favorite low-carb foods? Lists of low-carb fruits and vegetables are given to make your life easier. These include leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, and a surprise fruit that rarely makes the diet sweepstakes: avocado, high in fat, but low in carbs.

Add in 25 grams of fiber (you can subtract the fiber grams from the carbohydrate grams in commercially processed foods, which gives you more carbs to play with), and healthy fats: olive and nut oils, avocado, and butter. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day. And a glass of wine or a light beer is OK, but their carbs count, too.

The book's sample menus don't sound too temperate: Breakfast might be smoked salmon and a cream cheese omelet, one-half cup of fresh strawberries, a slice of light toast with butter, and coffee; for lunch, one-half avocado stuffed with chicken salad made with mayonnaise, served on a bed of fresh greens. Dinner might be a lean cut of meat, ten steamed asparagus spears, salad, one-half tomato, and a small glass of red wine if desired. Diet sodas and artificial sweeteners are permitted in moderation.

To round out nutritional needs, the authors recommend taking a high-quality vitamin-and-mineral supplement, along with at least 90 milligrams of potassium.

The book contains sample menus, more than 100 recipes, and suggestions on how to order in every kind of restaurant.

How It Works

Like the other low-carbohydrate diets, the Protein Power regimen is based on the idea that controlling the level of insulin, "the master hormone of human metabolism," helps regulate blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and fat storage. Researchers have long known that carbohydrates cause the body to produce insulin and that high levels of insulin inhibit the breakdown of fatty deposits in the body. In contrast, low intake of carbohydrates keeps insulin levels low, forcing the production of a counterbalancing hormone, glucagon, which seeks energy from the body's supply of stored fat. Ergo, one loses weight. Do this long enough and the fat seems to melt away, the authors claim, and they add that the usual "low-fat, high-carbohydrate approach won't do it; it has just the opposite effect."