High-protein Diets: Trading Your Health for Temporary Weight Loss
Once again, medical doctors and the paperback book industry advocating high-protein and fat-laden diets are grabbing the attention of millions of desperate people. “Lose 20 pounds in 30 days!” “Eat all the bacon you want and be thin as a breadstick!” The truth about these types of fad “diets” is that people can temporarily lose large amounts of weight, and can even lower their blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides — but the method is unhealthful.
The “Ketogenic” High-Protein Diets
There are two kinds of high-protein diets popular today: Those that limit calorie intake by causing the body to develop a metabolic state known as ketosis; and those that make stringent rules which limit the dieter’s intake of food.
The “ketogenic diets” cause the body to produce ketones by severe restriction of carbohydrate intake while allowing unlimited fat and protein intake. With insufficient intake of the body’s primary fuel, carbohydrate, the body turns to fats from foods and from body fat for fuel. By-products of this metabolism are acidic substances called ketones (acetacetic acid, B-hydroxybuteric acid, and acetone). The metabolic condition is known as ketosis. Ketosis is associated with loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and hypotension (lower blood pressure). The result is a decrease in food (calorie) intake. Ketosis is the key to the diet’s success, by allowing the body to starve while reducing the suffering of severe hunger pangs.
Initial Rapid Weight Loss
The initial weight loss is rapid, and therefore very rewarding, for the desperate dieter. Most of this loss, however, is water loss, rather than fat loss. With little carbohydrate in the diet the body resorts to using its glycogen stores of glucose. Glycogen, stored in the liver and muscles, can meet the average person’s glucose needs for about 12 to 18 hours. With each gram of glycogen is stored 2.7 grams of water. The average body stores 300 grams of glycogen. Depletion of the body’s glycogen would result in an almost overnight weight loss of 1110 grams (37 ounces or over 3 pounds). The ketones also cause a strong diuretic effect on the kidneys, resulting in losses of large amounts of fluid. The carbohydrate ceiling for weight loss may be as low as 15 grams, depending on the individual. This is only 60 calories of carbohydrate, which means 1/3 of a baked potato, 1/3 cup of rice, or one orange daily could be your limit of carbohydrate intake in order to remain in sufficient ketosis to suppress your appetite.
The Second Phase of Weight Loss
As you reach your desired weight on these diets you are allowed more carbohydrate. A maintenance diet prescribes levels generally between 30 and 90 grams of carbohydrates daily. However, if you start to regain weight as would be expected as you leave the appetite-suppressing advantages of ketosis, then you must immediately go straight back to the strictest carbohydrate-restrictive diet.
However, living with ketosis gets old fast for most people. Any benefits are usually temporary because it is too unpleasant to be in a state of ketosis seen with sickness — so people go back to their old way of eating to feel better and to enjoy their diet more, and they regain their lost weight and then some. A telling example of this is Dr. Atkins, the most famous advocate of ketogenic diets, who admits to being 20 pounds overweight; however, my eyeball of the situation leads me to believe that he’s easily wearing 40 extra pounds of fat or more.
Mental Function Impaired by Ketosis
Mental health seems to be impaired by ketosis. Performance on the “Trail-making Task,” a neuropsychological test which requires higher order mental processing and flexibility was found to be adversely affected by the ketogenic diet (Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 19:811, 1995). Maybe this reduced mental capacity is one reason some people on the Atkins Diet profess to be feeling so great.
The Natural Way to Permanent Weight Loss
There is a simpler, more healthful answer to obesity: eat the foods that thin people around the world eat; for example, the healthy people of Asia who thrive on high-carbohydrate, rice-based diets. The Japanese eat a diet abundant in rice and vegetables with only small amounts of animal protein and have a very low incidence of heart disease, breast, colon and prostate cancer and the world’s greatest longevity. Many Seventh-day Adventists are strict vegetarians, who consume mainly grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and as a result have a lower incidence of heart disease and colon cancer compared to the general population (Am J Clin Nutr 48:833, 1988; Cancer Res 35:3513, 1975). A recent (2001) study of Seventh-day Adventists found they lived longer and healthier. The vegetarian men and women had some of the best results with an expected age of death at 83.3 and 85.7 years, respectively. That is 9.5 and 6.1 years longer than the average Californian lives (Arch Intern Med 161:1645, 2001).
A diet based on complex carbohydrates with the addition of fruits and vegetables will cause effortless, permanent, healthful weight loss without restricting food or causing hunger. You eat delicious dishes such as minestrone soup, chili, and bean burritos. And you won’t ever have to make yourself sick again with fried cheese cubes wrapped in bacon.