High Protein Diets Are Popular, But Do They Work?

Diets with high protein content such as Atkins Diet and the Zone Diet have been touted for years and are popular.  Despite their popularity, there are negative factors that are cause for concern. We take a look at the pros and cons.



Diets: How Much Protein?

Women need at least 50 grams of protein a day, whereas men about 60 grams per day. However, with a high-protein diet, it can be much more than that. This extra protein comes from beans, meat, nuts, and grains. In addition, eggs, seafood, cheese, and soy are also important components. Carbohydrates like cereals, grains, and fruits are restricted.


Diets: How Does High-Protein Diet Work?

When you cut out carbohydrates, you lose weight quickly because you lose water. Then, with no extra carbs, the body begins burning more fat for fuel. This can lead to ketosis, which may make losing weight easier because you feel less hungry. Ketosis may cause temporary headaches, irritability, and nausea but appears to be safe long-term.


Pros and Cons

You can lose weight on a high-protein diet in the short term. Choose lean meats and dairy for your proteins. Find a program that includes vegetables, so you don’t miss out on fiber and other important nutrients.


Structuring a High-Protein Diet

Be choosy. The best high-protein plans focus on lean proteins and include some carbs. Avoid huge helpings of fatty meats and make sure to include vegetables.


Protein Lean Beef

Nothing says protein like a nice, juicy steak. And if you choose a lean cut, you will get all of the protein with far less unhealthy fat. In fact, a lean cut of beef like a top round steak has barely more saturated fat than a similar-sized skinless chicken breast.


Diets: Poultry

If you choose white meat when you’re buying chicken or poultry, you’ll get a lot less fat than if you eat dark meat. Also, remove the skin, which has saturated fat.


Diets: Fish for Protein

Fish is loaded with protein and almost always low in fat. Even the fish that have more fat, such as salmon and tuna, are good choices. Those fish generally have omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Most people don’t get enough omega-3s.


Diets: Eggs for Low-Cost Protein

Eggs are a good source of lean protein. But even though there is cholesterol in the yolk, experts say the cholesterol you eat does not raise levels in your blood. Saturated fats and trans fats are more likely to raise your cholesterol numbers.



Protein doesn’t come only from animals. Tofu, soy burgers, and other soy-based foods are plant-based sources of protein. Bonus: Eating 25 grams of soy protein daily may help lower cholesterol.


Diets: Eat Beans

A cup and a half of beans has about as much protein as 3 ounces of broiled steak. Along with protein, the fiber in beans helps you feel full longer and also helps lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.


Diets: Low Fat Dairy

Milk, cheese, and yogurt give you protein and calcium for strong bones and a healthy heart. Low-fat, nonfat, or reduced-fat dairy products will help you keep calorie counts down.


Diets: Whole Grains For Fiber

Most high-protein diets limit grains, so make sure the grains you do eat are pulling their weight. Favor whole grains. You’ll get fiber and nutrients. If you’re buying products made with whole grains, check the labels to make sure they’re not high in sugar or fat.


Diets: Fruits and Veggies

Most low-carb diets still include some vegetables but often limit fruit. There’s no known harm to cutting out fruit temporarily to keep your carb count down. However, for your long-term health choose a plan that includes fruit after you reach your weight goal.



People lose weight on high-protein plans because they take in fewer calories, not because they focus on protein.

In addition to pushing protein, many of these plans recommend cutting back on, or  eliminating carbohydrates. Get less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the amount in two apples) for three to four days in a row, and your body will start tapping its own fat and muscle for fuel instead of its usual source: glucose derived from carbohydrates.

This can have serious health consequences. You’re altering your metabolism away from what’s normal and into a starved state. Consequently, people in starved states experience problems with brain function.

A high-protein diet also overworks the kidneys. That’s especially worrisome for people with kidney disease and can predispose those with healthy kidneys to kidney stones. Over an extended period of time, excessive protein intake leaches calcium from your bones, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Far from increasing energy, that eating style might leave you fatigued and nauseated. Constipation can also be a problem because animal-based protein sources provide little or no fiber.

When it comes to heart disease, the saturated-fat-laden red meat that’s part of many high-protein diets will actually boost your risk. According to a Harvard study of more than 120,000 people followed for more than 20 years, a meat-based low-carb diet increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.

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