Though these plans differ in details, they share some common
- Myth # 1: If we eat too many carbohydrates, we'll have
too much insulin in our bodies. Excess insulin places us in
what one writer calls "carbohydrate hell." The result
is supposedly increased risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis,
and a host of other health problems.
- Myth # 2: Human beings originally enjoyed a diet that
was high in protein. Our bodies are genetically "tuned"
to this way of eating.
- Myth # 3: You can lose weight quickly and permanently
by consuming more protein and eating fewer carbohydrates.
In short, these diets say "hello meat, poultry, fish, and
eggs and good-bye fruits, vegetables, and grains."
Three reasons to doubt the claims
Actually, the weight of scientific evidence contradicts the hype
about high protein:
- Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream
to the body's cells. As such, insulin is crucial to human health,
releasing the energy we need to carry on our daily lives.
- Even if we accept for the sake of argument that human nutrition
once centered on protein for some period of time, this would
not mean that high-protein diets are an optimal diet for our
health, especially since we live longer than our ancestors and
have more time to accumulate fat. High-protein foods are likely
to be high in cholesterol and saturated fats--substances that
can promote heart disease and various cancers.
- Weight loss from high-protein diets comes at first from losing
water. However, long-term weight control means losing fat, a
goal that calls for changing eating habits over time. Even if
you do shed 10 or 20 pounds while on a high-protein diet, studies
show you're extremely likely to gain them back once you go off
Quick fixes seldom lead to long-term change
There's little evidence that people stick with any miracle diet
over the long-term. Too often, diets fail to give people the tools
needed for coping with common dilemmas.
"At first a diet stimulates interest because you're doing
something different," says Jennifer K. Nelson, M.S., R.D.,
a clinical dietitian at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. "But
in the long run, you've still got to face that when you go to
mom's for home-made ice cream, or that vacation when you're on
the road and you stop at a fast-food place. Then the diet becomes
a ball and chain. The best program equips you to deal with these
common situations," says Nelson.
"On high protein diets people can temporarily lose large
amounts of weight, and can even lower their blood cholesterol,
sugar, and triglycerides," says John McDougall, M.D., "but
the method is unhealthy." On a very low-carbohydrate diet,
like the Atkins diet, the body burns fat, and byproducts of this
are ketones, which suppress the appetite and can cause nausea.
McDougall points out this same condition of ketosis occurs when
people are ill; so they are freed to rest and recuperate, rather
then be forced by hunger to gather and prepare food. "Because
they simulate a state seen with serious illness," says McDougall,
"I call these diets make-yourself-sick-diets."
Another reason they deserve this title is they contain significant
amounts of the very foods -- the meats -- that the American Cancer
Society and the Heart Association tell us contribute to our most
common causes of death and disability.
The reason blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides may be
reduced is on high protein diets is that people are eating much
less, because of their loss of appetite, and sometimes nausea.
Similar results, for similar reasons, are seen with cancer chemotherapy.
In general benefits are temporary because it is too unpleasant
to be sick -- so people go back to their old way of eating.
There is a simpler, healthier answer to obesity: eat the foods
that thin people around the world eat; for example, the healthy
people of Asia who thrive on high-complex-carbohydrate, high-vegetable,
Research shows that the slow-and-steady approach to weight loss
- Restrict your calorie intake moderately and naturally by adopting
a plant-based diet.
- Focus your diet on more low-fat, high-complex carbohydrate
foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Do not overdo protein intake.
- Get an exercise regime going, one which you can adopt as a
permanent part of your healthy lifestyle.
Such ideas may not currently be fodder for the best-seller lists.
Even so, this formula is far more likely to lighten your load
in the long run.