Hi Protein, low carbohydrate diets

By Terrill Bruere, Dietitian, and the Dietetics Department at the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.

High protein, low carbohydrate diets have recently become popular again.  Dietitians at the Royal Women's Hospital do not support the use of these diets for weight loss for the following reasons:

There is no scientific evidence of the long term effectiveness on weight, lipids or blood glucose levels.  Short term extreme diets have been shown to have a high failure rate long term, with adverse side effects on self-esteem and eating behaviours.

Diets such as these cause an initial weight loss due to depletion of muscle glycogen and associated fluid – not adipose tissue (fat).

Excessive protein intake can lead to the risk of increased saturated fat intake and heart disease, higher calcium loss in the urine possibly increasing the risk of osteoporosis, and strain on the kidneys to remove excess nitrogen which can increase the risk of kidney disease in those with diabetes.  Protein is not lacking in the Australian diet.

Inadequate carbohydrate intake.  Carbohydrate is the main food fuel for daily living and there is a minimum requirement of 50 to 100g per day.  Not enough can cause harmful changes to metabolism by promoting manufacture of ketones.

Lack of dietary fibre, B group vitamins and other potential nutrient deficiencies from inadequate foods of plant origin.

Lack of dietary satiety leading to potential overeating of foods higher in energy (meat, dairy, eggs) than those such as vegetables and grains which usually provide the bulk of the diet.

Lack of enjoyment and variety in the diet.

Dietary obsession and increased risk of eating disorders, particularly for adolescents.

Potential inability to sustain physical activity or usual lifestyle due to inadequate body fuel.

The continuing exploitation of women with weight issues for financial gain.

This style of 'diet' surfaces regularly but represents a potentially harmful method of short term weight control.  A simple 'dietary pyramid' or more recent 'balanced plate' model of food choices, with an emphasis on reduced saturated fat intake and plentiful carbohydrate is encouraged.  Eating should be both responsible and pleasurable and the natural appetite signals of the person can guide the amounts of food eaten.  This is recommended with an active lifestyle for weight management for the whole community, irrespective of size and age.


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