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Low carbohydrate/High protein diets

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Many of us are still faced with fitness participants who believe in low carb/high protein diets. Since 65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates it may not be a good idea to delete them from your diet.  If you aren’t eating carbs you will be eating a lot of fat and protein.


Since many people are looking for the “magic pill” and the fastest way to lose weight, we’ll try anything if it promises a quick fix.  There are many “cons” of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.  The pro is you lose “weight” fast, but this weight isn’t fat – as you will see.


High protein diets encourage you to eat lots of meat (and some, like the Atkins diet, encourage you to eat butter, bacon and lots of eggs).  This is absolutely loaded with fat and does, contrary to advertising, increase cholesterol levels in humans!!! 


Energy from Carbs

Although fat provides energy, it cannot provide it in the form of glucose, the substance needed for energy for the brain and nerves. After a few days of glucose deprivation brain and nerve cells develop the ability to derive about half of their energy needs from a form of fat known as ketones (but they require glucose as well).  With carbohydrates stores depleted, these cells demand glucose from the only alternative source – protein. This protein comes from dietary protein and from body stores (muscles, internal organs and other lean tissue in the body). These tissues give up their protein and, in long periods of starvation, can atrophy, bringing on weakness and loss of function.  Not to mention when depriving your body of carbohydrates you will become irritable, moody, tired, confused and have a shorter memory. Studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets slow down the thinking process mimicking “starvation”.  "The weight loss comes primarily from water," said Kathleen Zelman (American Dietetic Association), among Atkins' critics over the years. "But you can also burn muscle, and body protein can be in the form of muscle -- your heart muscle."   


Your body needs carbohydrates! Period.  It needs it for fuel and brain food – if you don’t get the carbs you need your body will go through gluconeogenesis…making carbs out of a non-carb product. This is detrimental in three ways;


1) Protein is used instead. When protein is used to make glucose the body makes ketones. Ketones broken down go through Ketosis – ketosis will cause you to lose weight (but it is a lot of salty water and lean tissue).  When your body goes through ketosis you have much higher chances of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, headaches, and nausea, just to name a few. And because of the increase acid level in the blood will cause fatigue and loss of muscle strength.


2 ) Protein broken down for fuel turns into amines (a small chunk of protein). Amines are toxic to your cells.


3) If protein is being used as fuel it is not doing the job of building and repairing other cells of the body and building antibodies.


The high-protein dieter thinks that protein will make you lose weight. Weight loss occurs during carbohydrate starvation for several reasons;

  • Meals without carbohydrates are boring (try eating a ham and cheese sandwich without the bread, lettuce, and tomatoes - or the steak dinner without the peas and potatoes). People quickly lose interest in high protein diets.
  • Protein is digested slower than carbohydrates so you tend to stay fuller longer – the problem with this tho is that your metabolism decreases (because the action of eating and digesting and transporting food causes an increase in the metabolic process).
  • High protein/low carb diets will make a person feel ill (tired, moody, etc) and they will soon return to eating normally with a slower metabolism and gaining more fat than before.  Studies have shown that over 85% of the people who crash diet not only gain the weight back, they become fatter after dieting!!
  • High protein diets will dehydrate you (you will be thirsty) because of a substance called Urea. Urea is the body’s principal vehicle for excreting unused nitrogen (a substance formed from the breakdown of protein). Urea and nitrogen must take with it water as it is released from the body.
  • High-fat diets will increase your bad cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease.  Even though on the Atkins web site it says that their studies found cholesterol levels didn’t rise.  It has been suggested that their studies were done on people with already high cholesterol so it didn’t register that much with them.  If they had done the study on a normal, healthy person – you can bet that the artery-clogging fat will most definitely go up!!!


Protein is meant to build and repair tissue – not provide you with energy – and certainly not to burn fat!  If you are not eating carbohydrates which are your major supplier of energy, protein is broken down to help give you energy.  When this happens protein is not doing what it is supposed to do – build and repair tissue!!!


Carbohydrates are your life force.  The nutrients in carbohydrate-rich foods prevent cancer and give you energy.  They have a lot of fiber to keep you regular and don’t (as some people think) bloat you.  It is all the “extras”  you put on top of the carbohydrate-rich foods (butter, cream, sauces, dressing) that makes you fat  - NOT the carbs.

Instead of eating in a counterproductive and unsafe manner, eat a well-rounded diet that includes food from all the four food groups.  Instead of worrying about how much food is going IN – we should be more worried about the amount of energy we are putting out.  Exercise and you won’t have to ever diet again!

Christina Truscott

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