During the 70s, the Atkins Diet Revolution was all the rage in the diet world. During the 80s, cutting calories was the magic answer. In the 90s, Susan Powter and the low-fat fad ruled.
Now we've managed to come full circle for one of the worst diets on the planet: the Atkins New Diet Revolution. Virtually every nutritionist, doctor and health expert condemns the high-protein, low-carb diet.
But, we hear that "high protein" works, and we read the bestseller, and we jump on the bandwagon without knowing if this is really the best way to eat or lose weight.
And who can blame us? All you see are books, ads and celebrities talking about how great protein is. Let's talk about what protein is, first.
There are different types of protein, but all proteins are made up of combinations of about 22 amino acids. There are more, but these 22 are necessary to human survival.
Our beliefs about protein are often inaccurate. People worry they aren't getting enough; they think it's the magic weight-loss cure; they think vegetarians are going to keel over and die.
None of these beliefs are true. It's very easy to get enough good protein being a vegetarian. You really only need about 20% protein in your diet to be healthy, and the source doesn't matter. The body will accept the amino acids and put them together into proteins for you - you don't have to worry that you're getting "complete" proteins, as long as you eat variety in your diet. And the body also can't tell between a plant amino acid and a meat amino acid, because there is no chemical difference. An amino acid is an amino acid is an amino acid!
What a lot of people aren't told is that protein can actually be bad for you. This comes from the misunderstanding that extra protein builds "extra" muscles.
Don't bodybuilders eat a lot of protein for muscle growth?
Some do, yes. But that can be misguided. Because once the body gets the protein needed to maintain its muscle cells, it outright dumps the rest. It's similar to how the body naturally flushes excess Vitamin C. A bodybuilder might need more protein to support more muscles, but the average person does not need to be eating bacon and steak at every meal. We focus so much on protein, we forget about how important vegetables and fiber are.
I always thought high-protein foods were unhealthy because they have saturated fat. Isn't heart disease a big concern? It's a huge concern. Heart disease is America's number one killer. So it makes sense that you'd want to avoid foods that might encourage heart disease. And that's a problem with protein. Many proteins, like bacon and steak, are loaded with saturated fat. But that's not the only problem.
The body will flush excess proteins away. But it's a little more dicey than the way your body gets rid of vitamin C. How so?
The difference is that flushing protein from the body takes a great deal of energy. Eating too much protein causes something called ketosis, which is what diabetics actually experience. The liver gets filled with ammonia, a toxic substance, and must convert it to urea. The kidneys must then excrete the urea, which is enormously taxing. So the high-protein diet isn't such a good idea.
You can lose weight on a high-protein diet quite easily. It's a vanity diet, however. That means it's a diet where the only goal is dropping weight immediately. Health, long term looks, and lifestyle are not important. Honestly, can you eat a high-protein diet forever? No, not without getting bored and seriously ill. Will you feel healthier, be more fit, more toned, or tight? No, you won't. As nice as bacon, butter and steak seven days a week might seem, that much protein and fat is just not healthy.
Different types of protein have different issues. Animal protein is rich in homocysteine, which is known to cause heart problems, strokes and even osteoporosis. Homocysteine is actually a biomarker for heart disease. There's evidence that homocysteine, when there's too much in your body, might also be linked to other diseases like Alzheimer's.
I'm never eating protein again.
Protein isn't bad. It's incredibly important for your body. It's something you absolutely cannot live without. Protein maintains your cells. It helps muscles, hair, skin, eyes, and especially the brain. Protein is a great long-lasting energy source, too. The problem is thinking that any one nutrient, whether it's protein, carbs or something else, is going to be the miracle solution for a perfect body.
Are carbs healthy or not?
It really depends on the kind of carbohydrate. Just like fat and protein, there are good carbs and bad carbs. According to the Associated Press, studies in which people consume white, refined grains versus whole grains and vegetables have fatter midsections.
Scientists think Americans' expanding waistlines are linked to a diet high in refined, bleached carbohydrates, such as white bread and rice, pastries, pasta and beer.
When wheat and other whole grains are refined, the nutritious, fibrous husk and germ are removed. What's left is more attractive and sweeter to the taste, but this refined product is also much higher on the glycemic index than whole grains, and sends blood sugar spiking. Insulin floods the system to alleviate this spike, which in turn can slow down the metabolism and store fat. Insulin-related fat storage is linked to the midsection.
Unfortunately, this insular fat is some of the hardest to get rid of, not only because the body becomes conditioned to believe it must store the fat, but because the stomach muscles are not attached to joints like other muscles in the body, so getting them to burn off the extra layers of fat is more difficult. However, with a combination of whole grains in the diet and regular exercise, the stomach will eventually shed its stored fat.
In the most recent study, researchers found that consuming refined instead of whole grains boosted the average participant's waist by an entire clothing size in just three years! On the other hand, participants who ate only whole, brown grains, and favored vegetables, did not experience weight gain or increased waist size. Many even lost weight.