How Safe is a High Protein Diet?

A high protein diet can be effective under certain circumstances. But, are they safe for everyone? The late 1990’s diet industry was saturated with low-carb diets, like the Zone and Atkin’s. Extreme low-carb diets have generally been discredited by both medical authorities and the dieting public at large. The unbalanced nature of these diets makes it difficult to ensure proper nutrition, and the high levels of calories and saturated fats in the foods that are most commonly consumed on these diets can be tough on many of the bodies’ systems.

Weight loss experienced on these diets is usually temporary, and can lead to further weight gain after the diet is abandoned. While these low carb diets are inherently high in protein, they should not be confused with a carefully planned high protein diet.

Why High Protein Diets Are Chosen

A high protein diet is not necessarily unbalanced or unsafe. High protein diets are those that aim for at least 30% of total caloric intake to be from sources of protein. This can be plant or animal protein, with the preferred sources providing lean protein low in saturated fat. Normally touted by bodybuilders as a way to bulk up, these diets have also been configured for weigh loss.

The underlying premise of these diets is that in general, carbohydrates are used first by the body for energy, protein is stored as muscle, and fat consumed is converted into fat on the body. This has not been proven to be the case. The body requires adequate protein to function and build muscle, but consuming extra protein does not necessarly translate into building muscle.

However, a diet that is carefully planned to have a healthy amount of lean protein sourced through fresh foods can offer the dieter increased energy, stamina and overall wellbeing, while providing the nutritional foundation needed to build muscle and burn fat. For those seeking weight loss, a fitness plan that includes weight training and other exercise which builds muscle mass is essential to reach long-term goals and maintain weight loss once those goals have been reached.

Protein Rich Foods

The food sources with the most amount of protein per calorie are meats such as beef, chicken and pork. Non-meat sources such as eggs and cheese provide protein, but also contain saturated fats. Good plant-based foods that are high in protein include tofu (bean curd), tempeh, beans and nuts. These are the healthiest sources of protein and should be a part of any healthy lifestyle, whether on a high protein diet or not.

Powdered protein, supplements, shakes and other processed sources of protein are not a good way to ensure adequate nutrition. Too much protein can be detrimental to the body, and nutrition from foods is always better for overall health than forcing a nutrient through the body’s systems with supplements.

Making Complete Proteins

There has also been some discussion in the wellness field about food combining and ensuring high protein diets include “complete” proteins  For example, meat sources of protein are complete, but some plant based sources such as beans are not complete until they are paired with other specific foods such as rice.  This is now thought to be untrue and unnecessarily complicated.

It’s best to simply read the nutritional information of foods and aim for a diet with a diverse array of fresh foods, with a balanced mix of carbohydrates and proteins, and a small percentage of saturated fats.

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