A high protein low carb diet has been promoted as the latest most effective way to lose body fat and weight, recommending dieters to receive up to 50% of their total calories from protein while reducing their carbohydrate intake to 60 grams per day or less.
In contrast, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the National Cholesterol Education Program recommend a diet in which protein derived calories will be a smaller percentage of calories than the one implied in it.
Its basic goal is to restrict carbohytrate intake forcing the body to move into a different metabolic state refered to as ketosis, where the body burns its own fat for energy.
Simply put when our bodies search for energy sources they look for glucose. Since we have lowered our carb intake and the glucose levels have dropped (along with our insulin levels) our bodies look for the second best source of energy, ketones, which come from the metabolism of fatty acids.
The physical implications of the above mechanism is to initiate the fat burning process, as our bodies start to use fat as the second best energy source, as well as the likelihood of dieters feelling less hungry thus likely to eat less.
Obviously, the intended benefit of fat burning process, due to our body’s natural tendency to reach for the easiest available energy store, which on this case are fat cells, does work at some extend. Is it safe, though?
The element of high protein consumption has two risk factors that need to be well thought of or researched before starting:
1. Appearance of high cholesterol levels, which have been found guilty for developing heart disease and problems in the circulatory system.
2. High secretion of Calcium in urine, during prolonged implementation of a high protein low carbohydrate diet, elevates the risks of osteoporosis and kidney stones.
The element of low carbohydrates holds another risk factor that needs to be taken under consideration. The absence of micronutrients, such as vitamins – minerals – fiber – antioxidants, that are present in foods high in carbs (with the exception of sugars) is very well documented to cause numerous problems.
However, the most important of the possible problems associated with high protein low carbohydrate diet is the risk of ketoacidosis in people with diabetes type 1 and 2.
The already low levels of insulin coupled with a diet so low in carbs that does not assist insulin secretion , acidify the blood with the possible risk of getting into diabetic coma.
Although it may sound like a far fetched case, we have to understand every possible danger that is associated with a diet choice. Experts, such as dietitians or physicians, offer their knowledge for a very small fee, compared to the possible damages that could be induced due to an uneducated decision.
Numerous scientific studies have been conducted in the last 20 years and their results occupy all the spectrum of possibilities, from promoting the safety and efficacy of high protein low carb diet to questioning its long-term validity to outright condemning it as dangerous.
It is very difficult to make an educated decision on whether to follow a high protein low carbohydrate diet based solely on the scientific consensus on the subject, since there is no consensus.
On the other hand, although major governmental bodies and associations have been largely opposed to any diet that would decrease carbohydrate intake, to less than 60 grams per day, lately some of them have relaxed their opposistion towards this nutritional regimen.
Personally, I would avoid anything that has raised such controversy among scientists around the globe.
However, just by browsing around the
internet you will easily find several people that have reached a fat loss goal
with such a diet. These practical results only prove that such diets have
been efficient in a number of people although they are not the absolute safest diet regimen to achieve their goals.
That said and by understanding that everyone has a different way of thinking, due to different set of beliefs with which each of us makes decisions, my first advice would be to never again put the well being of your self and your loved ones in anyone’s hands without, at least, making an honest effort to educate yourself on the subject
So, answering the original question if we should follow a high protein low carb diet, I would stick to the guidelines presented by National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine and Food and Nutrition Board* because they are the only ones that make sence to me.
Avoiding the extremes has always been a way to live for me and in a subject that has caused such controversy among the experts, I feel it is an extreme to support it blindly.
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