Not too long ago I had lunch with a friend who is a new convert to the high-protein way of eating. She spent 10 minutes telling me how great she felt and how much weight she had lost since shedding her use of starchy high-carbohydrate foods in favor of more meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Many of my clients, from time to time, report they, as well, are on the high-protein bandwagon. Certainly the proponents of high-protein low-carbohydrate diets paint glowing reports of newly gained health and vitality -- but what about the long term picture?
My friends' bashing of all the high-carbohydrate foods and lack of energy is right on the money but her passion for an all protein diet isn't good either. In fact, she may be falling into a worse trap.
The body will tolerate short term stints of diets that ignore carbohydrates in favor of proteins and vice versa. That balancing act will become very difficult over the long haul; here's why.
A high protein intake demands very large amounts of water for metabolism. The water can be obtained by drinking water-- not pop, coffee, or juices -- but what is not obtained from drinking will be siphoned from body tissues. As a result, these diets can cause a loss of water weight, a well-known fact that accounts for their initial success. For those individuals who metabolize animal protein well, the weight loss can continue and be quite effective, for a while. Others find they soon reach a plateau with little or no continued weight loss, followed by a loss of energy and feeling high strung and tense. Others may feel generally sleepy and lethargic or have a feeling of heaviness. Diets that are low or void of carbohydrates will sooner or later provoke a bread or sugar binge.
The sole aim of high protein diets such as the Mayo Clinic (not associated with the institution), the Stillman and the ever-so-popular Atkins diet is to bring about loss of weight. But weight loss at what cost?
A diet high in protein can severely tax alkaline mineral reserves in the body, namely calcium. Proteins, especially animal proteins leave behind an acid residue that will have to be balanced with alkalines. When we are younger, our cells contain plenty of alkaline reserve from which the body can maintain its balance. As we age, that calcium and other minerals will be pulled from bones and organs leading to a host of chronic degenerative diseases including osteoporosis, the many forms of arthritis, including fibromyalgia and can eventually lead to deposits of calcium in the form of stones in the kidneys and gall bladder. A high-protein intake, too, can so severely tax your calcium mineral reserves it may leave you feeling hyper and sleepless.
When my clients or friends tell me they are using a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet, I do as any good counselor should do, I listen and wait for the follow-up report, difficult as that may be. If they ask my advice, I mean if they really want my advice, I will strongly discourage the use of this kind of diet. Indeed it may work for some and with that I won't argue. I have as yet, in my six years of practice, to run across the individual that has a strong enough metabolic system to tolerate the long term use of so much protein.
Be that as it may, I know many of you will, at one time or another, utilize a high protein diet. My best advice: listen to your body; allow your diet to change as you change. Remember, every body has its limitations!
Till next time, Rebecca.
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