Feb 2002    
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The Heart Association Condems High Protein Diets

The Atkins Diet, The Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters and the Stillman Diet all came under the attack of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) in a report in the October 9, 2001 issue of the journal Circulation (104:1869-74, 2001).1


The abstract of this article clearly condemns these diets, "High-protein diets typically offer wide latitude in protein food choices, are restrictive in other food choices (mainly carbohydrates), and provide structured eating plans. They also often promote misconceptions about carbohydrates, insulin resistance, ketosis, and fat burning as mechanisms of action for weight loss … These diets are generally associated with higher intakes of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol because the protein is provided mainly by animal sources. In high-protein diets, weight loss is initially high due to fluid loss related to reduced carbohydrate intake, overall caloric restriction, and ketosis-induced appetite suppression. Beneficial effects on blood lipids and insulin resistance are due to the weight loss, not to the change in caloric composition … High-protein diets are not recommended because they restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients and do not provide the variety of foods needed to adequately meet nutritional needs. Individuals who follow these diets are therefore at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall."


Advocates of high-protein diets say their approach reduces the risk of heart disease.  The Nutrition Council of the AHA says:  "A diet rich in animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, an effect that is compounded when high-carbohydrate, high-fiber plant foods that help lower cholesterol are limited or eliminated."  "High-protein diets may also be associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease due to intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol, and other associated dietary factors."


Advocates of high-protein diets say their approach is especially good for people with diabetes.  The Nutrition Council of the AHA says:  "A very-high-protein diet is especially risky for patients with diabetes, because it can speed the progression, even for short lengths of time, of diabetic renal disease."


COMMENT: Sure you can lose weight on a high-protein diet, but you are also risking your health.  The Nutrition Council of the AHA specifically links these diets to heart disease, high blood pressure, gout, cancer, and fatigue.  If you look closely at the appearance of advocates of these high-protein diets you will notice most of them can be kindly described as appearing somewhere between overweight and portly.  This is clear evidence to me that the diets they recommend are too difficult to follow – even their founders can not stick to their own plans. Their personal appearance should discourage anyone from following their recommendations.


See the "The Great Debate – High vs Low Protein" on my web site www.drmcdougall.com for an interesting discussion of high-protein diets, and especially the Zone diet, with whose author I have engaged in debate in three public forums.


1.  St. Jeor, S.  Dietary protein and weight reduction: a statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation 2001 Oct 9;104(15):1869-74. 

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