Beware the Promises of Fad Diets
The holidays are over, and now you’re starting to think long and hard about that New Year’s resolution to lose weight. But if the pressures of meeting your weight-loss goals have caused you to consider trying one of the many controversial high protein diets that are seemingly so popular these days, you might want to think again. High protein diets — some include the Atkins diet, the Zone and the “Mayo Clinic” diet — may promise quick and easy weight loss methods, but these benefits are not without health risks.
The high-protein diets listed above all differ in their guidelines. However, they share a common emphasis on protein, including meats, poultry and eggs — and a decrease, if not elimination — of carbohydrates, such as breads and vegetables.
They may seem to offer a miracle system for weight loss. In fact, most people who try these diets do lose weight, for the short term. The truth is that stored carbohydrates contain a lot of water. High protein diets promote this fluid weight loss.
But over time, a high protein diet can cause the body to go into ketosis, an altered metabolism. The body’s preferred form of fuel is glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates. Without carbohydrates, the body turns to fat and protein for energy. By-products of this process are called ketone bodies, and they can cause serious physiological problems over time . . . not to mention the fact that diets that are very high in protein are also generally very high in fat. Saturated fats have been shown to be linked with elevated cholesterol levels, strokes and heart disease.
High-protein diets also can be dangerous for what they lack. Diets without the proper amount of carbohydrates also lack sufficient fiber, which can result in problems with the kidneys and intestinal tract. And the phytochemicals and antioxidants you can only find in certain fruits and vegetables are the same ones that have been shown to help fight cancer.
Most doctors agree that variety and balance are still the best rules when it comes to planning your meals. While high-protein diets may offer an immediate weight-loss gratification, they are difficult and potentially dangerous to maintain. Safe and effective weight management requires a life-long commitment to proper nutrition and exercise.
The US Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommend a balanced menu with adequate vitamins and minerals. These are the measures you commonly see as “The Food Pyramid” and include daily goals of:
- Fats, oils and sweets — use sparingly
- 2-3 servings from the milk, yogurt, cheese group
- 2-3 servings from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group
- 2-4 servings from the fruit group
- 3-5 servings from the vegetable group
- 6-11 servings from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group
If you are trying to lose weight, it’s important to choose an eating plan you can live with now and into the future and one that teaches you how to make healthy decisions about food. Remember that foods themselves aren’t intrinsically good or bad when eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. And no plan is complete without a proper exercise regimen established and monitored through your partnership with your primary care physician.
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