A high-protein diet has been touted to make a person lose weight and control blood-sugar levels and increase muscles in persons who lift weights. Is this a fact or a fad?
Most of us consume more protein than the body needs, so why is it that there is a problem with obesity, diabetes and struggles with gaining muscles in some persons who are always pumping iron at the gym?
The basic principle of the high-protein diet - whether Atkin's, South Beach, HCG or Zone - is the consumption of high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods. These diets, usually provide:
fewer energy-rich foods
higher protein, most times in the form of animal meat, which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Why does the body need protein?
Protein is needed by the body:
for growth in children and adolescents
to make and repair new cells and tissue
to make enzymes for digestion
to strengthen the immune system
to make strong hair and nails
Adults are no longer growing and need to eat only enough protein to match whatever protein they break down and lose in urine, faeces, skin, hair and nails every day.
How much protein does the healthy adult require?
The normal, healthy adult needs 0.80 to 1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. The body weight used should be the lean or ideal body weight. A person weighing 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds, would need 56 to 70 grams of protein per day.
Sources of protein in the diet include:
starchy foods from the staples food group such as yam, rice, green banana, macaroni
peas, beans and nuts
vegetables when cooked
milk and milk products
animal flesh such as chicken, fish, oxtail, beef
How much protein is in the foods we eat?
One serving of:
Starchy foods is half-cup rice or four ounces yam/potato or one finger green banana and provides two grams of protein
Peas and beans is half cup red peas, gungo or lentils or half cup soy milk or two ounces tofu and provides four grams of protein
Cooked vegetables is half-cup steamed callaloo or carrot and pak choi and provides two grams of protein.
Cow's milk is half-cup or one ounce of cheese and provides four grams of protein. Low-fat milk provides three grams of fat per serving.
Animal flesh without skin and bones is one ounce chicken or beef or pork and provides seven grams of protein. Animal flesh with little or no fat on it will provide three-five grams of fat per serving.
How much protein is too much and what are the health effects?
Consuming more than one and a half to two times the amount of protein than the body needs is considered too much.
Excess protein in the diet is not stored as protein for future use, but some is stored as fat and the balance is passed out of the body in the urine.
Some studies have shown that a high protein diet causes the kidneys to overwork in order to get rid of excess protein in the urine in the form of urea and nitrogen.
Some studies have shown that, the higher the protein intake, the more calcium is passed out of the body in the urine which increases one's risk of developing osteoporosis.
A diet rich in animal protein is usually low in fibre, phytochemicals and has high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Animal flesh is the richest source of protein, and high intake of red meat, especially in the processed form, has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer.
The substances that are used in the curing and processing of the meats have been linked to increased cancer risk.
The methods used to cook animal protein at high temperatures also increase the risk of cancer development.
High-protein diets increase urination and may cause dehydration.
While on a high-protein diet, individuals may be advised to consume individual amino acid supplements or protein shakes. This habit may cause an imbalance in the absorption of amino acids and may also cause an increase to toxic levels in the body.
For a healthier body:
Calculate your protein requirements. most persons consume too much protein
Eat less animal protein
Substitute foods from animals with peas, beans and nuts. These foods are more filling due to fibre content and are very low in fat.
Remove skin and visible fat from animal flesh
Choose low-fat milk and dairy products.
At heaviest meal, consume three to five ounces of animal flesh (amount similar to a deck of playing cards) or three servings or six ounces of tofu.
Choose wisely for a healthier you!
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay, and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: yourhealthgleanerjm.com