Does A Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet Work?
If you’ve ever been really serious about losing weight, you’ve also probably been learning a lot about different aspects such as weight loss diets, workouts, coaches, eating plans, new snacks, and fun recipes.
Research has shown that high protein, low-carb diets can help you lose weight because they keep you fuller for a longer period of time. A benefit to these kinds of diets is that they help with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Too much protein can be harmful though, and those that may have already damaged kidneys may not be good candidates for this type of diet because the excess protein taken in can increase their uric level and become dangerous.
For now, let’s focus on the weight loss diet that has many perplexed yet intrigued: The low-carb, high protein diet. The most famous of such diets is the Atkins Diet. Way back in 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins who was a cardiologist claimed that a diet that restricted carbohydrates and promoted high protein and high fats, was a part of the new shift on how Americans should eat their meals. He wrote the book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution which started this new concept. Many people embraced the new diet, but as with most new concepts, there were plenty of skeptics who questioned its veracity.
Another low carb, high protein diet we will look further into is the Protein Power Diet. This diet was created in 1996 by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades. This diet is similar to the Atkins Diet in such a way that it uses high protein and low carbs as its backbone, but it leaves out the dieting phase called “induction” in the Atkins Diet which brings about ketosis.
The years have passed, but the question remains the same, are low-carb, high-protein diets effective? Put simply, do they work?
Let’s check both out:
Protein Power Diet
This diet has been popularized by lots of fitness coaches and nutrition experts. It is designed as a low-carb high-protein food plan that focuses mostly on glucagon and insulin. These are two of the main hormones that transform food for fuel to be used by the body.
The idea behind this is that when you restrict carbohydrates, your insulin level decreases. This pushes your body to make more glucagon (this is the hormone that uses up stored fat). If this happens for some time, your body will begin to burn fat.
Foods allowed on this diet are mainly protein: tofu, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and low-fat cheeses like cottage cheese, mozzarella, and feta. Also allowed are certain vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, green beans, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, celery, cucumber, and peppers. 25g of fiber daily is allowed as well. The fats permitted include butter, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil.
If this diet appeals to you, know that artificial sweeteners or diet sodas can only be used in moderation. A light beer or a glass of wine once in a while is permitted. The diet recommends that mineral and vitamin supplements are to be used as well.
The problem some people have with this diet is that packaged foods are not permitted. Another point that may be considered negative is that consistent exercises like resistance training are highly recommended.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet has four core principles for which this diet was designed:
- To help with weight loss
- To help with weight maintenance
- To reach good health/ well being
- To help prevent diseases
This diet works as most low-carb diets do. When there is a lack of carbohydrates present, the body can no longer break it down into glucose for energy, but rather the body breaks down fat. This is referred to as ketosis. During ketosis, glucose and insulin levels drop. This enables the body to use its already stored fat and dietary fat as fuel for proper body functioning.
When this diet first emerged, a lot of people criticized the diet for encouraging excess intake of fats because it was hailed to be the diet that promoted eating high-fat foods like bacon and steak at every meal. As time passed, there have been lots of structural adjustments to the diet and has become one of the most popular weight-loss diets in the world today. One of the main changes to the original diet is that It also encourages people to take in more high-fiber vegetables and exercise more which the original diet had not promoted. The Atkins Diet is very flexible within its four phases, meaning you can start at any phase depending on your weight loss needs and levels, culminating in the last phase which should be the way you should eat for the rest of your life. These four phases are:
- Induction– This first phase is best exemplified by a dramatic decrease in carbohydrate consumption (20g or less) by combining proteins and fats, consuming carbs through green leafy vegetables, and drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. Weight loss is quickest in this phase.
- Ongoing Weight Loss- Increase daily net carb intake (now to 25g). It is during this phase that weight loss slows down and it can be calculated what your personal carb balance is. This balance is the amount of carbs each individual can consume and still lose weight. This phase lasts until 5 to 10 lbs of your desired goal weight is achieved.
- Pre Maintenance- It is in this phase that you hit your target weight and maintain it for at least a month until you move onto the next phase. After gradually adding 10g daily net carbs and still maintaining your goal weight, you will be able to find your carb tolerance level. This level is the amount of net carbs you can take in which neither weight loss nor weight gain occurs.
- Lifetime Maintenance- As the name implies, it is this phase that you have reached after you have maintained your goal weight for a month, and you will aim to maintain this weight and good health for the rest of your life.
Dr. Atkins believed that the main reason why people gain weight is that they consume lots of bad carbohydrates especially sugar, flour, and high fructose corn syrup. Therefore having an awareness of the quality and quantity of carbohydrates is necessary to achieve the benefits of the diet.
There are also some common risks associated with high-protein diets:
- Promotes kidney damage
- Increase in cholesterol levels from protein sources such as meat, dairy products, and high-fat foods. (some studies claim that those who stay on the Atkins diet for at least 2 years actually had their cholesterol levels reduced)
- Higher chances of osteoporosis and kidney stones. Excess calcium is excreted when there is a significant intake of protein which can cause these two conditions.
Once carb intake is limited for a significant amount of time, your body is forced to transform fat into ketones so it can be used as fuel. At that point, your body is in a state of ketosis. When ketosis occurs, your body isn’t able to store fat because your body is using it, so you’ll begin to lose weight. Both the Protein Power Diet and The Atkins Diet are excellent choices to get you to the point of lifelong weight maintenance. So yes, a low carb, high protein diet will work, but you have to do it right and you have to stick to it in order to reap the benefits of living a life that includes weight loss and a personal understanding of carbs and proteins to maximize your health.