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on October 07, 2008
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Nutrition Myth - High protein diets are not healthy and are less effective than traditional low fat, high carbohydrate diets in producing weight loss

Nutrition Myth - High protein diets are not healthy and are less effective than traditional low fat, high carbohydrate diets in producing weight loss

Things have changed over the years in how scientists and nutrition professionals view dieting and what is truly considered “high protein.” When it comes to health, as long as the diet falls within the current and much wider range of acceptable amounts of protein, carbs and fats (45-65% Carbs, 10-30% Protein, 20-35% Fat), then the best diet for producing weight loss is the one that works for the individual. As long as the diet does not vastly exceed the guidelines, weight loss itself trumps the dieting method when it comes to improving health. In other words, weight loss is the primary driver of health improvement rather than the type of diet used. Other important facts to consider are presented here.
The current recommendation for protein is 10 to 30 percent of total daily calories. Therefore, diets that were once considered high in protein (e.g. 40/30/30, Zone Diet) are well within recommended guidelines and are widely acceptable among scientists and nutrition professionals.

Low-carb diets (e.g. Atkins) are those that severely restrict daily carbohydrate intake to below recommended levels (< 130 g/d) and allow unlimited protein and fat intake. Protein intake often falls within guidelines while fat intake exceeds guidelines (>35% of total calories). A recent review evaluating the safety and effectiveness of low-carb versus traditional high-carb, low fat diets has found that low-carb diets produce greater weight loss at six months but the diets are equally effective after one year.[1] The effectiveness of low carb/high-protein diets is likely be due to 1) protein’s increased ability to prolong the feeling of satisfaction when compared to carbohydrates and 2) limiting food choices to mostly protein and fat sources which often leads to fewer calories consumed daily. Despite this, widespread use of low-carb diets is not recommended because of adverse changes in LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol levels. It’s also important to note that drop-out rates were significantly high – almost 50% for both diets -- and that most people who lose weight return to their original weight within three to five years.[2,3] 

Data accumulated through the National Weight Control Registry and other sources has revealed that people use a variety of dieting and food intake strategies to lose and maintain weight loss long-term.[4,5,6] While most participants follow a lower fat diet, there is variability in the amount of protein and carbohydrate used. More consistent among successful losers were certain behaviors including eating breakfast daily, tracking food intake, maintaining a high activity level (mostly walking), limiting TV time and self-weighing regularly. Although participants of the National Weight Control Registry represent a model for long-term weight loss success, this population represents a very small percentage of those who attempt weight loss. Therefore, to lose weight individuals should select sustainable eating patterns and activity behaviors that create a calorie deficit and regularly check weight, inches gained/lost or body composition to determine if adjustments are needed. Gaining continuous visibility of weight changes and self-regulating food intake and activity are critical for maintaining losses.


1  Nordmann AJ, Nordmann A, Briel M, Keller U, Yancy WS, Brehm BJ, Bucher HC. Effects of Low-carbohydrate vs. Low-fat Diets on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors, A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Ann Intern Med. 2006;166:285-93.
2  Wadden TA, Phelan S. Behavioral assessement of the obest patient. In: Wadden TA, Stunkard AJ, eds. Handbook of obesity treatment. New York: Guilford Press, 2002;186-226.
3  Dansinger ML, Tatsioni A, Wong JB, Chung M, Balk EM. Meta-analysis: the effect of dietary counseling for weight loss. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Jul 3;147(1):41-50. Review.
4  Klem, M.L., Wing, R.R., McGuire, M.T., Seagle, H.M., & Hill, J.O. A descriptive study of individuals successful at long-term maintenance of substantial weight loss. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 66, 239-246.
5  Due A, Larsen TM, Mu H, Hermansen K, Stender S, Astrup A. Comparison of 3 ad libitum diets for weight-loss maintenance, risk of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes: a 6-mo randomized, controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Nov;88(5):1232-41.
6  Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S.

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