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High-Protein Diets – How Healthy Are They?

Because high-protein foods tend to taste better than high-carb/low-fat foods, dieters are more satisfied and less likely to “cheat.”
Tuesday, 25 September 2012

high_protein_foodsHigh protein diets may have changed over the years – starting with liquid protein in the 80’s, followed by the Atkins Diet and South Beach.  While some people still claim that low-fat diets are better than low-carbs, high protein foods are more effective at satisfying hunger.  When the overall goal is to reduce calorie intake; it’s usually better to stick with foods that fill keep hunger at bay, but not all high-protein foods are created equal.

Recent research on high-protein diets

According to a study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants reported less hunger, greater satisfaction and faster weight loss when they followed these proportions:  20 percent of calories from fat, 30 percent from protein and 50 percent from carbs.  Participants ate about 441 fewer calories per day by following this high-protein diet and regulating caloric intake.

Another Journal of Nutrition report showed that when participants combined a high protein diet with exercise, they were able to successfully lose weight and reduce blood fat levels.  Diets higher in protein with fewer carbs work best when combined with regular exercise to maintain lean muscle tissue, an essential for a faster metabolism.

Researchers say they don’t fully understand why protein works so well to quell the appetite, but they believe it’s because a diet high in protein supplies lower levels of appetite stimulating hormones. Eating fewer carbs and more proteins alone can impact the hunger hormones and brain chemistry in a positive way.  That said, the American Dietetic Association believes that more research is needed before experts can make any sweeping recommendations for increasing the level of protein in their diets.

How much protein do you really need?

All human beings need to ingest protein in some form in order for the body to function properly.  In fact, protein is the major component of all human cells, including bone and muscle.  It is necessary for growth and development, as well as the immune system.

According to the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) from the Institute of Health, the recommended allowance of protein for normal, healthy adults is anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of total caloric intake.  For a person who consumes 1,800 calories per day, he or she could safely consume 45 to 218 grams of protein per day, but the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is about 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women.  Even with so many protein shakes, protein bars and protein-packed foods available, it would be difficult for most Americans to eat enough protein every day to account for 35 percent of their calories.

Is it possible to eat too much protein?

Unless you have kidney disease, there are no dangers associated with higher intakes of protein. Most weight loss experts agree that to optimize the weight-loss benefit one should aim for 120 grams of protein per day, without exceeding their targeted calorie intake. As with any diet, it is best to check with your doctor before adding large amounts of protein to your diet.

In many ways, high-protein diets are simply low-carb diets in disguise, and like many other diets they have their pros and cons.  One thing that seems to stand when comparing a high-protein diet to other diets is how much easier it is to follow.  Because high-protein foods tend to taste better than high-carb/low-fat foods, dieters are more satisfied and less likely to “cheat.”  Provided that the high-protein foods are low in saturated fat and sodium, this diet is also known to reverse the symptoms of heart disease.

What are the best foods to eat on a high-protein diet?

While some dieters rely heavily on whey protein powders and protein bars, it is usually better to eat more natural foods.  According to Dr. Carol Johnston, a registered dietician at Arizona State University, this meal plan might include chicken, fish, yogurt, nonfat dairy products and soy-based foods.  She also recommends avoiding grains or keeping them to two servings per day, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Overall, the best foods for high-protein diets are those that pack a lot of protein, such as chicken and fish, but are not full of fat.  The worst foods are sugary, carb-packed junk foods and fatty meats like red meat and pork.

For a healthier high-protein diet, include lean and low-fat sources of protein at every meal as part of a calorie-controlled diet.  Carbs don’t need to be avoided entirely, but it’s best to stock up on 'smart carbs' like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olives, oils, fish, and avocado.

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