Protein For Health and Weight Loss (cont.)


Many health organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, caution against low-carb diets because of concerns that the diets lead to abnormal metabolic functioning in the body that can cause serious medical problems, particularly among people with heart disease and with heart disease risk factors, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

What happens to bone when people eat very high-protein diets for a long time? This hasn't been studied, but it's likely to be associated with increased bone loss. But the answer isn't a very low-protein diet since the recommended amount of protein is needed to keep bones strong as well.

* Higher meat protein could mean higher colon cancer risk

Reviews of the literature on colon cancer suggest that though a high-protein diet, per se, doesn't l increase your colon cancer risk, a diet high in meat may be the ticket that does increase the risk. Following along these lines, a recent Japanese study concluded that as dietary animal protein and fats and oils increase, incidence of colorectal cancer increases as well, but colorectal cancer incidence decreases as dietary plant protein increases (along with amounts of carbohydrates and cereals).

* Don't regular exercisers need more?

The answer is "probably not." The Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intakes report recently released concluded: "In view of the lack of compelling evidence to the contrary, no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults undertaking resistance or enduring exercise."

But What About All That Weight Loss?

Is it the protein or the calorie cuts that lead to weight loss? The high-protein diet programs and gurus will most certainly tell you it's the protein. But two recent studies say it's the restriction of calories rather than the protein that is the most important determinant of weight loss. In an Australian study, 36 obese adults, mostly women, were assigned to a 12-week energy-restricted diet that was either moderately high in protein (27% calories from protein) or lower in protein (16% calories from protein). The weight loss was similar in both diets. Researchers at Stanford University analyzed all research published on low-carb or ketogenic diets over the past 37 years. They concluded that the successful weight loss from low-carb diets was "principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but NOT with reduced carbohydrate content."

One of the most popular features of the low-carb, high-protein diet is the quick weight loss. Don't be fooled here. You cannot physiologically lose more than 2 pounds of body fat a week. So what are all the pounds that people lose in the first few days of starting the diet? Water. To make up for the lack of dietary carbohydrates, the body uses its own carbohydrate stores in the liver and muscle tissue (called glycogen), which in the process also mobilizes water. Many of the early and rapid pounds lost are due to -- that's right -- excessive urination!

Can a Certain Type of Protein Lead to Weight Loss?

Apparently, it doesn't matter whether your protein primarily comes from lean beef or chicken. As long as you reduce your total calories by 500 a day and participate in an exercise program (in this study it was a walking fitness program), you will most likely enjoy some weight loss and improved cholesterol levels. This evidence comes from a recent study with overweight, sedentary, nonsmoking women conducted by the Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Shrewsbury, Mass.

A recent six-month trial demonstrated that replacing "some" dietary carbohydrate with protein improved weight loss -- but this was when the diet was still, overall, a reduced-fat diet.

Higher protein is in vogue these days because of the publicized success of quick weight loss. But studies also show that there might be long-term health consequences of such a diet, and slow but sure weight loss can take place with a healthy high-fiber, moderate-protein, and moderate-fat plan -- a way of eating that we can live with for the rest of our lives. Yes, we do need protein, but at levels of 15%, not 50%, of calories from fat. So when it comes to protein, it looks like moderation is the healthiest choice of all.

Published June 6, 2003

SOURCES: Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes report, 2002. International Journal of Obesity, (volume 27) 2003. The Journal of the American Medical Association, April 9, 2003. Nutrition, May 2003. Journal of Nutrition, March 2003. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2002. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, November 2002.

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