Monday, February 4, 2013

The Harms of a High (Animal) Protein Diet: Part 1

Continuing from the last blog discussion on the metabolic syndrome . . .

Recall from the last blog that the Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in every 3 Americans suffers with the metabolic syndrome—a silent killer that leads to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  The metabolic risk factors that result from the “hyperinsulinemia” (high amount of insulin pumped out of the pancreas to overcome the “insulin resistance” of the cells) include abdominal obesity (waist circumference > 40” in men, > 35” in women), triglycerides > 150 mg/dL, low HDL cholesterol (< 40 mg/dL in men, < 50 mg/dL in women), high blood pressure > 130/85 mm Hg, and fasting glucose > 110 mg/dL.  If you have just 3 of the symptoms you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and are at significantly higher risk for developing a heart attack or diabetes if you do not resolve the syndrome.  Also associated with the syndrome is the presence of small (dense) LDL cholesterol and inflammation.  Certainly we need to know what we can do to prevent the onslaught of this disease in Americait is preventable.  

The two recommended treatments which have the ability to reduce the risk factors and resolve the metabolic syndrome are weight-loss and exercise, both with anti-inflammatory results.  Recently there has also been a lot of discussion about the anti-inflammatory properties of certain components of many healthy foods such as the omega-3 fatty acids (in fish, walnuts and flaxseed), antioxidants (in fruits and vegetables), and a component in olive oil, as well as soluble fiber and selenium.  Therefore, a three-pronged attack to prevent the metabolic syndrome seems prudent—weight-loss, exercise, and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods in a plant and fish based diet.  Today I focus on a big concern I have regarding the weight-loss recommendation.

When you hear “weight-loss” what do you think of?  Many Americans automatically think of a diet and, if that wasn’t bad enough, they almost as automatically think that a high-protein diet is a good “healthy” solution.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  I hope you have heard by now that high-protein diets are not safe, but if you are still of the opinion that they are, read on. . .

Besides the metabolic harm of eating a high amount of animal protein, the increase in reported health problems resulting from high-protein diets, and the dangers associated with recommending a ketosis-inducing condition indiscriminately to millions of Americans, the recidivism (weight-regain) rate is proving to be the same as for other diet “solutions” in the past, compounding the health problems further.
Though people initially lose a lot of weight on high-protein diets, most of it is water weight (because each molecule of carbohydrate is stored with 3 molecules of water and since the high-protein diets are also very low carb there is a lot of water loss), but that is not weight-loss of any benefit whatsoever.  In addition, it's tough to maintain a healthier weight when you end a restrictive diet because of the deprivation-rebound overeating which many dieters experience, and also because the foods you are now accustomed to eating are higher in cholesterol and fat.  In fact, your cholesterol levels may actually be higher after the diet than they were before you started. But you didn’t really need a dietitian to list all the specific dangers associated with eating a high-protein diet.  Common sense says that if you eat less healthy foods you will be less healthy, right?  Unfortunately, the “expert” diet book authors often confuse the issue.

For example, the popular diet books claim that a long list of carbohydrates (including carrots, potatoes, etc.) are to blame for insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and a host of associated maladies, but this is not supported by the research.  Studies have shown that these authors are on the right track--the excess intake of refined carbohydrates are to blame for erratic insulin/blood sugar responses.  This is nothing new!  However, to blame pasta, and to put many nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrate starches on an “out” list is not only highly misleading, but downright harmful, exacerbating an already too-low-nutrient-dense Standard American Diet (S A D).  How is it that anyone could really believe that a healthy diet is one with an excess of animal protein and low in plant foods?  Could it be that these popular authors are “tickling the ears” of this generation of meat-indulging Americans, and that many Americans are so ready to believe the unsubstantiated claims because of the quick “success” they experience with ketotic weight-loss?

The popular high-protein diets are really just more of the same low-calorie diets dressed in new clothes, which is why they “work” (for the short term).  And while the authors often work very hard at using semantics to convince readers that their plan is not a diet (because we all know that diets fail), they still promote “diet thinking” between the lines (it seeps out).  There is a lot written about “sticking to the program” and being “on” or “off” the plan, and although the authors often preach the virtues of healthier dietary habits as a new lifestyle implying lifelong change, reading the testimonies (even within the books themselves sometimes!) it is doubtful if this translates to the actual experience of the majority of readers.  In fact these books are often a mix of good information with diet-mentality information, subtly feeding the craving the American public still has for diets.  These diet books are also filled with nutrition misinformation.  While the blog isn’t room enough for a full review of all the specific misinformation, nutritional breakdown of the various diets and “diet mentality” testimonies in these books, anyone interested can either read a review of the South Beach Diet on the N.E.W LIFE website or can purchase a copy of the Diet Book Reviews CD which includes a review of many of the popular diet books. 

But back to the metabolic syndrome and the recommendation for weight-loss.  People are just not aware that the excess refined carbohydrates in the American diet should be replaced with monounsaturated fat, not protein, because protein stimulates insulin secretion which  exacerbates the problem underlying the metabolic syndrome (remember the hyperinsulinemia?).  Americans are not aware of the Syndrome X diet, or that the very similar Mediterranean diet is an answer to the metabolic syndrome.  

In addition to the fact that protein stimulates insulin secretion, there are multiple reasons why a high animal protein diet is bad for your health.  An outline of the multiple harms of a high animal protein diet continued in the next blog.

Encouraging healthy weight-loss,
Diane Preves, M.S., R.D.

Thank you for sharing this post with others who might benefit from the information shared herein. 


  1. Thanx for Sharing your knowledge.. Thumbs up!

    Weight Loss

  2. New Diet Taps into Innovative Concept to Help Dieters Lose 12-23 Pounds within Only 21 Days!


Banner Image Credit: bryljaev / 123RF Stock Photo.

Background Image Credit: bryljaev / 123RF Stock Photo.