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Weight management experts recommend using a low calorie, high protein diet for losing and maintaining a healthy weight. Doctors warn, however, that this may be effective for a few months, but may have long-term side-effects.

A high protein diet for weight loss is one of the most popular types of diet plans endorsed by many weight-management experts. A high-protein diet is defined as one that has more than 35 percent of one’s daily calorie intake coming from protein sources.

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To maintain a healthy weight, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults ages 19 and above consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day (women) and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day (men), depending on their activity level. Of the total calorie intake recommended, adults are advised to obtain their macronutrients as follows:

  • 45 to 65 percent from carbohydrates
  • 10 to 35 percent from protein
  • 20 to 35 percent from fat

Eating a high-protein diet with more than the recommended amount of protein daily will mean that one has to obtain fewer calories from carbohydrates and fat. 

Thus, a high protein diet entails consuming a low-carbohydrate, low–fat diet, which weight management experts believe will result in weight loss.

Are High-Protein Diets Safe?

Research shows that the top sources of energy of most Americans include foods like grain-based desserts, yeast breads, soda, pizza, tortillas, pasta, alcoholic beverages, dairy desserts, potato chips, beef, and chicken. It is easy to see that most of these foods (except beef and chicken) contain mostly carbohydrates and fat and little protein. In fact, researchers found that most Americans consume only an average of 15 percent of their calories from protein. This pattern of eating may be the reason why obesity is on the rise.

On the other hand, studies show that a low-carb, low-fat, high-protein diet results in rapid weight loss, which may help reduce one’s risk for obesity-related chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

However, some doctors and healthcare providers are concerned about eating a high amount of protein for the purpose of losing weight. This usually entails consumption of calories mostly from meat sources, although some plant sources such as soy and nuts are also included in a typical diet plan. A diet high in protein has the advantage of making one feel full longer, thus reducing hunger and food intake.  

Although eating a high-protein diet typically is not harmful over a few months, it is not clear if it may have long-term risks. According to medical experts, these plans usually severely restrict carbohydrate intake, reduce fiber intake, and could lead to nutritional deficiencies. Eating a lot of red meat and dairy products that are rich in saturated fat may also increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Aside from these, a heavy protein intake can induce an unhealthy metabolic state called ketosis and can increase one’s risk for osteoporosis, kidney stones and kidney failure.

Which High-Protein Diet Plan?

There are various versions of high-protein diets. There are the extremely-high protein diet plans that advocate consuming more than the recommended amount of protein specified by government (up to 40 percent), which include the Paleo diet, Dukan Diet and Medifast plans. Then there are those that recommend eating more protein (such as the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet), but stay within the recommended amounts (up to 35 percent).  Which one would we recommend?

Continue reading after recommendations
  • USDA. 2010 Dietary Guidelines. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf
  • WebMD. High Protein Diet for Weight Loss. http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/high-protein-diet-weight-loss
  • FitDay. How to Create a High Protein Diet Plan. http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/how-to-create-a-high-protein-diet-plan.html
  • WebMD. High Protein Low Carbohydrate Diets Explained. http://www.webmd.com/diet/high-protein-low-carbohydrate-diets
  • Mayo Clinic. Are high-protein diets safe for weight loss? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/high-protein-diets/faq-20058207Photo courtesy of Butterblume1986 via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/butterblume1986/16599729880
  • Photo courtesy of Primal Stolid via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/79342239@N02/6961617842
  • health.gov
  • webmd.com
  • fitday.com
  • mayoclinic.org