Scrambled eggs and sausages for breakfast, a couple of hamburgers without the buns for lunch, a generous strip of juicy steak for dinner, and maybe a protein shake or two, or a couple of protein bars in between.
This kind of diet plan is what high protein diets are all about. In fact, in recent years, high protein and low carbohydrate diets have become very popular as an effective way to lose weight.
Diets like these usually recommend an intake of 30 percent to even 50 percent of total calories from protein, going against the conventional nutritional norms of consuming far fewer calories from protein.
The terms “high protein” and “low carbohydrate” have been linked most strongly with the highly controversial Atkins Diet. However, there are a number of other diets that work more or less on the same rationale, such as the Protein Power Lifeplan, the Zone Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Stillman Diet, the Sugar Busters Diet, the FatLoss4Idiots Diet, and the Muscle Gaining Diet.
In fact, both “high protein diet” and “low carbohydrate diet” are inextricably linked in weight loss diets like these, although many people use the two interchangeably. Which is not technically accurate.
For instance, you can eat a high protein diet with a lot of carbohydrate included, or a low carbohydrate diet with normal amounts of protein. However, according to high-protein/low-carb diet gurus like Dr Atkins, for weight loss to occur, a high protein diet has to be combined with consuming low amounts of carbohydrate.
Most of these diets have several phases, wherein the initial phase is usually when the diet is the most stringent, and then a gradual easing off in subsequent phases, until a maintenance phase is arrived at.
So, what does a high-protein/low-carb diet actually involve? Well, let’s begin by identifying the carbohydrates that you are supposed to cut out, especially at the initial phase of the diet. The main carbohydrate that needs to be eliminated is sugar in all its forms such as brown sugar, granulated white sugar, powdered sugar, and so on.
All kinds of pastas come under carbohydrates, hence all spaghetti and noodle products have to be eschewed. All kinds of foods that contain starch, like potatoes and white rice, have to be avoided. Cereals are a high-carb food hence needs to be avoided completely, at least in the initial phase.
Due to the popularity of low-carb foods, supermarkets these days have begun stocking their shelves with low-carb versions of milk, sodas, bread, ice cream, wine and beer. However, even though these may be low-carb, you need to be circumspect about consuming them, if you really can’t do without them.
Although, for really quick weight loss, it is best to avoid them completely in the initial stage. Watch out for foods like barbecue sauce, bacon, salad dressing, ketchup, fruit juice, and even cough syrup – they have hidden sugars in them. Milk is not allowed because it contains lactose, which is a type of sugar.
One of the most controversial aspects of most high-protein/low-carb diets is the elimination of fruits and fruit juices in the initial phase, since they are mostly pure forms of carbohydrates. All food products made of flour have also to be eliminated, as these are high-carb foods too.
So, what’s left to eat, then, you might well ask. Well, here’s the good news, especially if you have a penchant for carnivorous foods. As is obvious by the term “high-protein” you are allowed to eat all kinds of meats, poultry, seafood, fish, and eggs. H
However, prepared meats like honey baked ham and bacon are not allowed because they are high in sugar. All vegetables, which are low glycemic, are allowed (low glycemic means any food that is not easily converted into glucose by the body), such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, egg plant, cucumber, and so on.
Cheese, butter and cream are allowed. In fact, most high-protein diets recommend a high intake of fat. Dr Atkins, for example, was of the opinion that dietary fat helped the body to metabolize it in order to derive energy from it, rather than it being stored as body fat. Plus, according to him, the satisfying factor of dietary fats helps to curb hunger pangs.
And another plus point about this diet for dieters (sick of starving themselves in order to lose weight) is that most high-protein/low-carb diets do not ask you to limit the amounts of food you eat, unlike low-cal diets, which are based on limiting food intake.
So how and why does a high-protein/low-carb diet work? How, for instance, can you lose weight eating high calorie foods like meat, butter and cream? Well, to begin with, this kind of diet works on the basis of ketosis. Ketosis is the process wherein the body uses the stored body fat (which is the body’s secondary source of energy) as energy, which causes the weight loss.
A little background about the body’s mechanism of getting and storing energy will explain this concept more clearly. Diets that include high glycemic carbohydrates are easily converted into glucose by the body.
When glucose is available, the body uses it first as the primary source of energy. However, as soon as there is a surfeit of glucose in the body, it results in insulin being produced in order to get the blood glucose back into a stable level. Insulin does this by sending the glucose into cells for their energy requirements, a part of the glucose that is not used is turned into glycogen and stored in the liver, and the rest of the glucose is turned into body fat.
Usually, with the modern day sedentary lifestyles we lead, we consume far more glucose producing high glycemic carbohydrate foods than we need. Hence, most of it is turned into fat, in the form of triglycerides.
In high-protein/low-carb diets, since high glycemic carbohydrates are eliminated, there is less glucose in the body. Hence the body is forced to look for some other source of energy, which is body fat and the fat in the diet. When the body metabolizes its stored fat or dietary fat, ketones are formed. Therefore, ketones, instead of glucose, become the source of energy for the body. Ketosis is reached when less than 40 grams of carbohydrates are consumed per day. Atkins, in fact, recommends cutting carbs down to 20 grams per day. The average diet usually has more than 300 grams of carbs per day.
According to research, it has been found that another reason for weight loss occurring in a high-protein diet is that consuming higher amounts of protein and reducing high glycemic carbs results in suppressing the appetite, which in turn leads to consuming fewer calories. In other words, the dieter feels satiated on eating a high-protein/low-carb meal, and remains so for a longer period of time. Researchers, however, are not clear yet why this happens, although the speculation is that a high-protein diet has an effect on the brain chemistry and hunger hormones.
High-protein/low-carb diets have come in for a lot of criticism by some medical practitioners and established nutritionists. According to them a diet that is so high in animal protein and fat has many potential health hazards. Curiously, most of these critics also make accusations that the diet does not include vegetables, although it clearly recommends changing the type of vegetables from high-glycemic and processed carbohydrate foods to low-glycemic fiber-rich carbs, and not eliminating them altogether.
Although weight loss is a common phenomenon in a high-protein diet, it has also been found that generally the loss of weight is not maintained for a sustained period of time. And that is largely due to people simply not continuing with the diet after a while. One of the main reasons that people find it hard to stay on this diet is that it tends to get monotonous. After a while, most people start craving the foods that they have denied themselves. As more high-carb foods are added back, the appetite returns, the stores of glycogen are replenished, and weight is gained back.
Also, according to the critics of this diet, even if people do stick to the diet for longer lengths of time and succeed in losing a lot of weight and keeping it off, the long-term safety of the diet has not been researched well yet. All conventional nutritional advice is based on the surmise that high protein diets being high in saturated fat has the risk of causing heart disease. Besides, it is also thought that too much protein in the diet can be harmful to the kidneys, especially in those people whose kidneys have impaired function. Plus, it is said that high protein diets increase the loss of calcium, which can be a contributory factor for causing osteoporosis.
In addition, lots of studies have found that fruits and many of the vegetables that are not allowed on the diet help in protecting against cancer and many other diseases. Any diet that involves restricting such foods results in missing out on important nutrients. And although supplements may be taken to compensate for the lower amounts of minerals and vitamins, they cannot replace the phytochemicals that fight diseases that are obtained from natural food.
Despite such criticism, however, study after study has been proving that a high-protein/low-carb diet is the most effective way to lose weight, especially when compared to the conventional weight loss diet that has been recommended all these years – the low-fat/high-carb diet. These studies have shown that people who incorporated a high-protein/low-carb diet experienced more weight loss, had the tendency to adhere to the diet more successfully, and had much better blood lipid profiles compared to the dieters on the low-fat/high-carb diet.
Given below is a list of high protein foods:
Duck, roasted, 221 grams – 51.89 grams protein
Chicken, stewed, 140 grams – 42.59 grams protein
Turkey, roasted, 140 grams – 41.05 grams
Turkey, neck meat, 152 grams – 40.80 grams protein
Chicken, broilers, giblets, fryers, 145 grams – 39.37 grams protein
Chicken, broilers, breast, meat, skin, 140 grams – 34.78 grams protein
Chicken, canned, with broth, 142 grams – 30.91 grams protein
Halibut, cooked, 159 grams – 42.44 grams protein
Salmon, sockeye, 155 grams – 42.33 grams protein
Haddock, 150 grams – 36.36 grams protein
Rockfish, 149 grams – 35.82 grams protein
Tuna salad, 205 grams – 32.88 grams protein
Flatfish (sole and flounder), 127 grams – 30.68 grams protein
Swordfish, 106 grams – 26.91 grams protein
Lamb, lean, 85 grams – 30.21 grams protein
Pork, loin, center loin, lean, 85 grams – 27.35 grams protein
Beef, round, bottom round, lean, 85 grams – 26.85 grams protein
Pork, shoulder, lean, 85 grams – 27.42 grams protein
Beef, chuck, 85 grams – 26.40 grams protein
Beef, top sirloin, 85 grams – 25.81 grams protein
Lamb, leg, sirloin and shank, 85 grams – 24.06 grams protein
Dairy and Eggs
Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams protein
Egg, large – 8 grams protein
Yogurt, 1 cup – 8-12 grams protein
Cottage Cheese, creamed, 1 cup – 24.16 grams protein
Hard Cheeses (Parmesan), 1 oz – 10 grams protein
Medium Cheeses (Swiss, Cheddar), 1 oz – 7-8 grams protein
Soft Cheeses (Camembert, Brie, Mozzarella), 1 oz – 6 grams protein
Beans and Soy
Tofu, 1 cup – 40 grams protein
Soy Milk, 1 cup – 6-10 grams protein
Soy Beans, cooked, 1 cup – 28 grams protein
Beans (pinto, black, lentils), cooked, ½ cup – 7-10 grams protein
Split Peas, cooked, ½ cup – 8 grams protein
Seeds and Nuts
Almonds, ½ cup – 16 grams protein
Cashews, ½ cup – 10 grams protein
Peanuts, ½ cup – 18 grams protein
Pecans, ½ cup – 5 grams protein
Flax Seeds, ½ cup – 16 grams protein
Sunflower Seeds, ½ cup – 12 grams protein
Pumpkin Seeds, ½ cup – 38 grams protein
By Rita Putatunda