Do High-Protein Diets Really Help You Lose Weight?

grilled salmon and vegetables

Are high-protein diets all they’re cracked up to be? Find out here. | iStock.com

Fats, carbohydrates, and protein make up the essential nutrients in which our bodies need to function properly. And just like any diet out there, there are ways in which we increase or decrease the amount of these nutrients in order to obtain our health goals. Depending on your specific goal, you may want to lose weight, lower your risk of disease, or increase your intake of specific vitamins.

High-protein diets, such as the Atkins diet, promote a diet that is high in protein and low in carbs. Because your body requires carbs as a main source of energy, once your carb load is burned through, it turns to fat. This can often times causes people to lose weight, as increasing protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. This all sounds like a high-protein diet is the way to go, but it’s not for everybody.

The problem with high-protein diets? Too much protein can actually cause us to gain weight. There is a fine line between eating just enough to keep your hunger (and weight) low, and eating too much — or the wrong kinds — of protein.

close-up of a man clutching his chest to show a heart attack

If you have an increased risk of heart disease then you should definitely avoid a high-protein diet. | iStock.com

Though no one should eat too much protein, WebMD says people at risk for heart disease should be particularly wary of high-protein diets. Although replacing carbs and fats with protein can cause some to lose weight, a Spanish study found that in some adults at risk for heart disease, a high-protein diet can cause weight gain and early death.

In the same WebMD story, Monica Bullo, lead researcher at Pere Virgili Health Research Institute in Reus, Spain, said that “high protein intake is related to kidney disease, changes in sugar and insulin metabolism, and changes in blood fat.”

The problems with these high-protein, low-carb diets is that the long-term effects haven’t been studied yet. It is unsure whether it is completely safe to consume a lot of protein for long periods of time. Eat an average amount of protein, and ask your doctor what is best recommended for you.

How much protein is enough?

Man holding a protein shake

Make sure you’re eating the right amount of protein for you. | iStock.com

It is a myth that eating tons and tons of protein will help you become strong and muscular — in fact, it may be just the opposite. SFGate notes extra protein is stored as fat, as are any excess calories of any sort. The recommended amount of protein differs for everyone and depends on age, weight and activity level. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.37 grams per pound). That means a woman who is 130 pounds should eat 48 grams of protein per day, which may be seven ounces of salmon or seven eggs. Yet, depending on activity level, this may not be enough still.

As a general rule, adults should have about 25 grams of protein at every meal. It is always important to consult with a doctor, or correctly measure out the amount of protein you need for your activity levels. Lack of protein can result in weight gain, fatigue, loss of muscle, and a slow metabolism.

What kind of protein is best?

Bowl of eggs

Not all protein is created equal. | iStock.com

Lean proteins are the way to go. Eating less animal protein and more plant-based protein is recommended almost across the board. Lean meats, such as skinless poultry and fat-trimmed pork, seafood, beans, soy, low-fat dairy, eggs, nuts, and seeds are all great examples of healthy proteins.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City, told Health that high-protein diets allow as much steak, pork, and bacon as one desires, yet these animal proteins are proven to increase the risk of heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes. Instead, Heller suggests a plant-based diet.

The bottom line?

Protein sources including meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and nuts

Your high protein intake may not be that good for you. | iStock.com

In short, high-protein diets can cause you to lose weight, but only if you do them right. These diets can cause weight gain and long-term health problems if you eat too much protein, the wrong protein, or don’t tailor your protein intake to your own body.

Be sure to research any diet plan you begin and keep in mind the pros and cons to each eating regimen. While there are drawbacks of eating a diet high in protein, there are also positive weight-loss stories. Depending on your goals, your activity level, and your eating habits, consult with a doctor, nutritionist, or your own research to determine whether or not a high-protein diet is right for you.

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