High protein diets are often utilized by those who want to lose weight or gain muscle mass. These diets can deliver weight loss, higher energy and lean muscle, but because they exclude or limit carbohydrates, you might miss out on key nutrients.
How Much Protein
Your body uses protein to make new cells, produce hormones and enzymes and as an energy source. Over the course of your life, your diet should include different amounts of protein for growth and to maintain health. A high protein diet includes at least as much protein as is recommended for your age and limits the carbohydrates you eat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides recommended daily allowances of protein by age and gender. For example, girls ages 14 to 18 need 45 g of protein daily, while boys in the same age bracket need 52 g. Men ages 19 and up need 56 g, while women need only 46 g.
Protein comes from animal and plant-based foods, meaning that meat-eaters and vegetarians can follow a high protein diet. Animal proteins such as those found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs provide the nine essential amino acids humans need from food sources. Each plant-sourced protein contains some of the essential amino acids, but not all. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service recommends that vegetarians and vegans eat a balance of legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts on a daily basis to ensure they receive all nine essential amino acids.
The journal “Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity” notes that high protein diets result in more weight loss than their lower protein counterparts because your energy levels are higher and their fat content makes you feel fuller. High protein based diets also help you retain lean muscle mass. The journal states that nutrient-rich diets with moderate increases in lean protein and restrictions in carbohydrates can lead to weight loss and improved body composition. But it warns that more research is needed on the long-term safety of diets containing high protein levels.
The American Heart Association warns that because high protein diets restrict certain nutrient-rich foods such as whole grains and legumes, they might not be diverse enough to meet your nutritional needs. If your diet includes protein derived primarily from animal sources, you could consume too much saturated fat and cholesterol, leading to an elevated risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. To combat this risk, choose low-fat meats and dairy products. Eating a high protein diet over long periods of time can also damage your liver and kidneys and might lead to osteoporosis.
High protein diets exclude or limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Refined carbohydrates, such as those found in sodas, candy and white bread and rice provide little nutritional value and are easily stored as fat in your body. But the Harvard School of Public Health states that the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit are beneficial because they are rich in vitamins and contribute fiber and protein to your diet. Consult your doctor before beginning a high protein based diet to fully understand the value of eating a diverse diet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Protein and the Body
- “Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity”: Benefits of High Protein Weight Loss Diets
- American Heart Association: High-Protein Diets
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates – The Bottom Line