High Protein Diet For Weight Loss: Separating Myth from Reality

High Protein Diet For Weight Loss: Separating Myth from Reality
High protein dieting is all the rage and we all know at least somebody who’s tried it. But are all the claims out there, mostly made by advertisers, true? Of course not!

MYTH: Eating More Protein Builds More Muscle.

REALITY: No, it doesn’t. Period. Protein provides the basic building blocks of muscle, but in no way causes muscle growth.  It is an exercise that spurs the growth of muscle, not increased protein intake. If your body’s not being prompted to add more muscle, it will simply turn the macro-nutrient into fat. 

MYTH: Protein Helps You Feel Fuller, Longer.

REALITY: Mostly true. Protein does increase satiety and can stave off hunger effectively. The decreased appetite may help you consume up to 200 calories less a day on average. However, protein is not the only appetite buster. Fiber also increases the sense of fullness after a meal and must be considered, not just for overall health, but also because it contains minimal calories- your body doesn’t digest it. Protein, of course, does have calories.

MYTH: Protein Gives You Extra Strength.

REALITY: Not necessarily. It can provide a consistent level of energy when compared to carbs because it takes longer to metabolize. This can help you feel less sluggish during dieting, but it will not make you physically stronger. Strength comes from challenging your body. That is… exercise, exercise, exercise… Your body will not build muscle unless it’s prompted to.

MYTH: Protein Will Burn Fat.

REALITY: High protein intake can spur weight loss… at least in the first six months, if you are getting a high percentage of your calories from meat or legumes or shakes etc.. This is because your body uses about twice as many calories to metabolize protein as it does for carbohydrates. So, there are not as many calories available to store away as fat.
To take advantage of this, you have to cut your intake of calories from sources other than protein. Combine this with lowering your total caloric intake and increasing physical activity and you will prompt fat loss. Studies have shown that high protein diets do cause an average weight loss of 4.5lbs higher than other low-calorie diets over a period of six months. However, after six months of weight loss tapers off, mainly because these diets are hard to stick with or because the body adjusts its metabolism to the regimen.

MYTH: There Are No Risks Associated With a High Protein Diet. You can’t have too much protein.

REALITY: Oh, yes you can… We need a list for this one: New evidence shows that people on high protein diets excrete more calcium in their urine than other dieters. The theory is that the body releases its stores of calcium to buffer the increase in acidity caused by using protein for fuel. This may lead to osteoporosis in the long-term.

High protein and low-carb dieting create a state of ketosis. This means that the body is now burning its own fat for energy (that’s good). As fat is broken down small bits of carbon, called ketones, are used for energy instead of glucose. The long term effects of this are unknown (and that’s bad).  But the immediate consequences of ketosis are known and include muscle breakdown, nausea, dehydration, headaches, light-headedness, irritability, bad breath, and potential kidney problems (not just bad, nasty).  BUT, these symptoms easily resolve when carbs are introduced again (whew, that’s good).  As always, moderation is key- increase calories from animal sources but don’t completely eliminate carbs.

Many high protein foods come from animal sources, and many of these contain high amounts of saturated fats (red meat, chicken skin, etc…) and despite the good oils found in fish, contaminants such as mercury must be taken into account.

By upping protein intake, you are making a sacrifice. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are great sources of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, and a high intake of these foods is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and lower cholesterol levels. A high intake of protein is simply not associated with these benefits.

The breakdown of protein in the body creates ammonia. The long-term risks of having extra ammonia floating around in the body are unknown.  What is known is that I won’t sign up to be a test subject for that study… 

While high protein intake is not the be-all-end-all of dieting, it is definitely a useful tool that has its benefits. But what kind of protein is best for those of us who want to lose weight? Just one peek into a nutrition store and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad of protein supplements lining the aisles. Many are not geared toward weight loss, but rather fat loss and muscle building for serious athletes.