High-Protein "Miracle" Diets
Three reasons why they fail

American essayist H. L. Mencken once quipped that, "For every complicated problem there is a simple solution -- and it is wrong." His observation is still timely when applied to the current wave of miracle diets.

Weight loss hinges on many factors, including calorie consumption, exercise habits, and beliefs about the "right" way to eat. Faced with this complexity, many people long for a simple fix. Authors of fad diets are quick to respond, circulating their ideas through popular books, lectures, and talk shows.

High-protein diets share common claims

Books that promote a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet are "hot" right now. Examples include Protein Power, Enter the Zone, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, and The 5 Day Miracle Diet.

Though these plans differ in details, they share some common claims:

In short, these diets say "hello meat, poultry, fish, and eggs and good-bye fruits, vegetables, and grains."

Three reasons to doubt the claims

Actually, the weight of scientific evidence contradicts the hype about high protein:

Quick fixes seldom lead to long-term change

There's little evidence that people stick with any miracle diet over the long-term. Too often, diets fail to give people the tools needed for coping with common dilemmas.

"At first a diet stimulates interest because you're doing something different," says Jennifer K. Nelson, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. "But in the long run, you've still got to face that when you go to mom's for home-made ice cream, or that vacation when you're on the road and you stop at a fast-food place. Then the diet becomes a ball and chain. The best program equips you to deal with these common situations," says Nelson.

"On high protein diets people can temporarily lose large amounts of weight, and can even lower their blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides," says John McDougall, M.D., "but the method is unhealthy." On a very low-carbohydrate diet, like the Atkins diet, the body burns fat, nd byproducts of this are ketones, which suppress the appetite and can cause nausea. McDougall points out this same condition of ketosis occurs when people are ill; so they are freed to rest and recuperate, rather then be forced by unger to gather and prepare food. "Because they simulate a state seen with serious illness," says McDougall, "I call these diets make-yourself-sick-diets."

Another reason they deserve this title is they contain significant amounts of the very foods -- the meats -- that the American Cancer Society and the Heart Association tell us contribute to our most common causes of death and disability.

The reason blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides may be reduced is on high protein diets is that people are eating much less, because of their loss of appetite, and sometimes nausea. Similar results, for similar reasons, are seen with cancer chemotherapy. In general benefits are temporary because it is too unpleasant to be sick -- so people go back to their old way of eating.

There is a simpler, healthier answer to obesity: eat the foods that thin people around the world eat; for example, the healthy people of Asia who thrive on high-complex-carbohydrate, high-vegetable, rice-based diets.

Research shows that the slow-and-steady approach to weight loss works best:

Such ideas may not currently be fodder for the best-seller lists. Even so, this formula is far more likely to lighten your load in the long run.

Published Online: 08 Oct 2002 -- Copyright © by SSNV / All rights reserved.

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