Beware High Protein Diets!

by Jeanne Rhodes


Low calorie diets have been addressed in this column many times, but for clarification it must be stressed that any diet will produce the same end result. Diets compound weight problems primarily because of the slow down in metabolic functions, but will also create serious health problems.

While most diets restrict calorie consumption in one way or another, high protein diets may appear to be an exception. These diets restrict carbohydrates severely and require a high protein intake. Nevertheless, the end result is the same - a slow down in metabolic function. Although it takes months and sometimes a year for the high protein diet to “crash”, “crash” it will because of the changes it brings to your body’s functions.

Working a little differently than low calorie diets, high protein diets have been shown to decrease thyroid activity. As little as a 10% decrease in thyroid activity reduces calories needed by several hundred per day. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that have a profound effect on the metabolic rate of the body. High protein diets reduce T3; which is the active form of thyroid, and will also reduce the body’s ability to burn calories, both of which will work to reduce metabolism. In addition, your body becomes “carbohydrate intolerant” - meaning that you will have an immediate weight gain even with a very small carbohydrate intake.

Initial weight loss is very rapid on high protein diets and is also very misleading as it is predominately a water loss. Dehydrating the body, water is pulled from muscles and tissues to digest protein, leaving an estimated 1/3 less essential fluid in the body! Water is, by far, the most abundant substance in our bodies. A normal adult body is about 60 to 70 percent water. Next to air, water is the substance most necessary for our survival. Everything in our bodies occurs in a water medium. We can go without food for two months or more, but without water we can only survive a few days. It is very common to lose 1/3 of the body’s water very quickly on a high protein diet - dangerous and misread as weight loss. However, people are usually very elated with this tremendous “weight” loss which is actually a dehydration of their bodies. This is also the reason a high protein diet produces a very rapid regain - faster than any other dieting method. Stray from the high protein fare and dehydrated body tissues soak up water like a sponge, producing tremendous weight gains. In some cases as much as a 6-10 pound increase has occurred in just one day!

There are many health hazards associated with high protein dieting. Unfortunately, symptoms do not show up in the beginning months of these diets. In more than a few instances cardiac complications have occurred and in some cases have been severe enough to cause death. The diuretic effect of a high protein intake “leaches” minerals from the body that, while essential for all body functions, are especially critical for impulse transmission in the heart muscle. In addition, calcium loss reaches a dangerous level. In recent studies the loss of calcium was so rapid, it could not be prevented even with calcium supplements. As a result, bone density decreased contributing to osteoporosis, brittle bones, etc.

Another major health consideration is the extremely high fat intake (usually saturated) of most high protein diets. Meats, eggs, cheeses, and even regular cream and butter are included in menu suggestions.

In the final analysis, high protein diets, like any “diet”, will eventually fail while actually increasing weight problems! Dieters will lose only one thing - good health!

Rhodes, B.A., M.A. is a nutritionist Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author, and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.