Do High Protein Diets Benefit Non-Athletes?

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Do High Protein Diets Benefit Non-Athletes?

My wife cannot seem to understand that diets like Dr. Atkins and other high protein diets would not benefit her. She is not really active and does not workout. I tried to explain it to her but I am not so sure myself why these types of diets are not so good for people like her. Can you help?

It seems as if the major health organizations and the medical community are preaching that a healthy diet should be designed with the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food guide pyramid in mind. However your pals at the health club, church group, family members, and office friends swear by the most recent "popular diet." You are likely to lose weight on a high protein diet, which seems to be the most recent craze of the dieting market. Most of the "best-sellers" focus on decreasing carbohydrate consumption and increasing either fat or protein or both. Health officials are not disputing that weight-loss is a result of decreasing your carbohydrate intake. After all the elimination of this macronutrient will obviously result in a caloric deficit ultimately leading to a decrease in weight if expenditure remains constant. The potential for health risks is what seems to be drawing concern for individuals that choose to follow this type of diet (1).

Research conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated high-protein diets and associated them with the possible risk of heart disease. The data was taken from the Nurses' Health Study. In this study Harvard researchers determined that "...replacing carbohydrates with protein may be associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease." This study found that that women consuming a diet consisting of 23% of total calories coming from protein had a lower risk of developing ischemic heart disease in comparison to women that consumed 11% of their total calories from protein. Surprisingly to many, the latter group was consuming a protein concentration that was much closer to the dietary guidelines than that of the high protein group (1,2).

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels seem to be lower when diets replace saturated fats with carbohydrates. However, this study found that the higher carbohydrate diet also reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels and raised fasting triglyceride levels. Both of those incidents increase the risk for heart disease. The focus of the study was to replace the carbohydrate deficit with protein in attempt to achieve the same total daily kilocalories. Fat calorie consumption was to remain at 24% for both groups (1).

This study is informative yet several "red flags" remain and are flying high. Several researchers and dietitians are remaining skeptical regarding the ultimate impact of the outcome of such research. For example, there are strong correlations in high protein intake and hip fractures. This indicates the risk for osteoporosis, which is associated with high protein diets. This study probed into the relation of high protein intake and ischemic heart disease and was not evaluating the outcome of other conditions. The authors of the study noted, "Because an increase in protein intake from animal products such as meats, dairy products, and eggs is often accompanied by increases in intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and possible adverse effects on renal disease and osteoporosis, dietary advice to improve public health on the basis of these findings should be made with caution."

The topic remains to be controversial and a lack of thorough research is evident. Higher protein diets are beneficial for athletes, who tear muscle fibers through training causing a need for this rebuilding nutrient. What about the layperson, do the benefits outweigh the risks? Unfortunately this remains to be determined, perhaps we will not know all of the specific outcomes to this style of eating until the dieters of this era either begin to cease due to health complications or live past the risks that are thought to be present. Either way you look at it; the best way to go about designing your diet and lifestyle is through using what has proven to be safe and effective. As always, the incorporation of an exercise regimen is greatly encouraged and pricelessly beneficial.

References

1. High protein diets and heart disease. About. http://nutrition.about.com/library/weekly/n080899.htm. 17 Jan 2003.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999; 70: 221-227.

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