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Why High Protein Diets Might Not Be As Healthy As You Think

high protein diets

If the rise in popularity of the Paleo Diet has shown us anything, it's that people are allured by the promise of relatively easy weight loss and increased muscle mass. (No great surprise there!) But are high protein diets as healthy as they're touted? We explore a few prominent ones and some of the dangers associated with eating so much protein.

Popular Diets

meat and eggs high protein diets

High protein diets promise speedy weight loss by means of increased satiety and decreased fat intake. Research shows that people who eat protein-rich meals tend to feel significantly more satisfied than those consuming less protein. The idea is that people will require smaller portions and be less inclined to snack.

One of the most popular high protein diets is the Paleo Diet. This caveman-inspired diet is based on a meal plan that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have followed. That means lots of meat, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Dairy, refined sugar, whole grains, and other processed foods are off-limits. This diet is relatively easy to follow and it promises weight loss without cutting the calories—an attractive feature to many.

Other high protein diets such as the Stillman Diet, South Beach Diet, Atkins Diet, and Sugar Busters Diet work in similar ways by cutting out carbohydrates or other specific foods. While each program differs, they share one common principle: an emphasis on protein.

High Protein Dangers

red meat butcher's display

We know that protein (combined with exercise) is required to build muscle, and this macronutrient powers many of our body's processes, but can you have too much? The short answer: yes.

Too much protein can lead to serious health issues. Some specific high protein diets include lots of red meat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Others exclude carbohydrates, which can cause serious nutritional deficiencies. High levels of protein can also lead to kidney stones and an increased risk of osteoporosis through the loss of calcium. Finally, too much protein can disrupt amino acid absorption and the liver's conversion processes, resulting in nausea, fatigue, epilepsy, and far more severe health complications.

Healthier Solutions

plant-based proteins

The source of your protein matters. Animal-based proteins often contain high levels of saturated fat and LDL cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease. Choosing healthier, plant-based sources of protein such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds reduces this risk significantly. Following a more sustainable diet such as the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes regular exercise and doesn't cut out entire food groups, can be a safer option to stay healthy.

Whether or not weight loss is your goal, it's always important to seek the advice of medical professionals to assess your unique nutritional needs. You'll be able to develop a personalized plan that will help you enjoy a more healthy, fit lifestyle for the long-term.

Photos: Syda Productions /, Jacek Chabraszewski /, Andresr /, Ed Gregory