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Are high protein diets dangerous?

steakdinnerOften times we hear that high protein diets can damage your kidneys, and cause bone loss. On the other side we hear that high protein diets can help with fat loss, and as a matter of fact, speed it up. What’s the truth on the matter? Are high protein diets dangerous?

 

AN UNDERSTANDING OF PROTEIN. IS PROTEIN THE ENEMY?

Below is an excerpt from my book: 30 day paleo weight loss plan: The solution and the science to lose fat fast and live healthy long term (includes what to eat and recipes)

Protein is a macro-nutrient which makes up for the nitrogen needs in the body and is a very essential component. Any diet excluding protein to very low values such as under 40g is a very unhealthy diet. Protein accounts for over 50% of the major components of the body.

Protein can come in either incomplete or complete forms. The building blocks of protein are amino acids and the total count of amino acids are 20. Incomplete forms of protein and complete forms of protein mean that the building blocks of protein, which are amino acids, are, as the name suggests, not complete of all 20 or are complete of them. Complete proteins come from animals, which means meat, and not from vegetables, fruits and grains alone. You would have to combine the vegetables and grains to form a complete protein or a legume and a grain. An example is pinto beans and rice to form the complete protein. All animal meats, once eaten, contain all you need. Protein contains hydrogen, oxygen and carbon molecules, sometimes sulfur and they contain nitrogen. Protein has 4 calories per gram.

What your body is mostly made out of determines what you should focus on having each day

The major common elements making up all human bodies are the following:

96.1% of the major elements making up the body are Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen and Nitrogen.

3.9% of the major elements making up the body are calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iodine and iron.

Trace elements that make up the body (which are less than 0.01%) are Cobalt, Chromium, Copper, Fluorine, Magnaese, molybdenum, Selenium, Silicon, Tin, Vanadium, zinc

What this tells us is that we all need clean, fresh air everyday and to be active. Believe it or not that is part of diet. Oxygen is nourishment. Hydrogen is what influences the pH level of body fluids. Water is very important to drink and you should drink plenty to regulate body temperature and for it to help digestion by making the enzymes work properly in your body. And finally nitrogen is needed. Nitrogen is protein and without protein you WILL waste away. Protein is needed for genetic material, bones, and muscles and more.

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Eat your protein

ARE HIGH PROTEIN DIETS DANGEROUS?

Here, I will debunk the most common claims that seem to be made when people consume high protein diets

Do high protein diets cause bone loss?

A study on the elderly reveals that “In the elderly, low protein intakes are often observed in patients with hip fracture. In these patients intervention study after orthopedic management demonstrates that protein supplementation as given in the form of casein, attenuates post-fracture bone loss, increases muscles strength, reduces medical complications and hospital stay” (1)

The most common claim is that high protein diets “leeches calcium from your bones and that in turn weakens them”. This isn’t so, studies show “greater calcium retention and absorption by individuals consuming high-protein diets, particularly when the calcium content of the diet was limiting. High-protein intake may positively impact bone health by several mechanisms, including calcium absorption, stimulation of the secretion of insulin-like growth factor-1, and enhancement of lean body mass” (2)

So in conclusion, being that Protein actually increases IGF concentrations , is necessary for bone formation and muscles, and can even positively impact calcium absorption, high protein diets do not cause bone loss.

If you are still paranoid even if there’s evidence to suggest you’ll be in good health (4), then “The consumption of high calcium diets is unlikely to prevent the negative calcium balance and probable bone loss induced by the consumption of high protein diets.” (4) so have calcium in your diet! Making brooths from the meat bones, nuts, vegetables, and raw milk have calcium.

Are high protein diets bad for kidneys?

If you have problems with your kidneys and only have one, then yes precautions must be taken, but assuming you have two working kidneys, high protein diets do not cause renal diseases and in turn does not mean the kidney function will decline (3)

High blood pressure and diabetic complications are one of the biggest reasons for kidney failure, but lo and behold it appears that protein actually can benefit with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity! (5, 6)

BENEFITS OF HIGH PROTEIN DIETS

So with all the bad stuff out of the way, why would you want to have more protein in your life?

  • High protein diets preserve muscle mass and has been shown to lead to greater weight loss (7, 8, 9)
  • “Further lower blood pressure, improve lipid levels, and reduce estimated cardiovascular risk.” (10, 5, 6)
  • Helps with hypertension (high blood pressure) (5, 6)
  • Helps build strong bones and muscles, increases IGF concentrations (1, 2)

There may be more, but this is good enough to tell you that protein is an essential component and in no way is it dangerous as people make it out to be. If you have learnt anything from the above, it is that low protein can actually harm you while adequate amounts of protein is needed for everyone in every day lives!

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IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH PROTEIN?

The answer is yes. If you plan to, after reading this, go out there and not eat carbohydrates, or fats and focus on protein alone, you are doing yourself a massive disservice. Not only will not including carbohydrates and fat can cause hormone and metabolic complications but extreme amounts of protein doesn’t mean extreme amounts of muscle mass.

When you focus solely on protein every single day your body WILL learn to burn protein for it’s energy means, and that means you’ll either get your energy needs from your protein foods, (if you are overweight it’s your fats more likely than your muscles first), or your muscles! Studies show that oxidation of essential amino acids is used (11, 12, 13).

You don’t NEED A LOT of protein either to gain muscle!

A study shows that 4 groups, 1 took steroids and trained, 1 didn’t take steroids and trained, 1 took steroids but didn’t train and finally the other did nothing! This lasted 10 weeks.

The protein intake for each group was roughly the same which was 0.7g per pound of bodyweight which is around 100-120g

Keep in mind these were all advanced lifters and not new to the iron game either. The results? The steroid training group gained over 13 pounds, the non steroid training group gained 4.5 pounds, the steroid no training group gained over 6 pounds and finally the no steroid no training group had no changes. (14)

The bottom line

So here’s the bottom line. If you wanted to lose fat, upping your protein intake is beneficial, but do not exclude carbohydrates nor fats. Caloric restriction, which is, how much you should eat to lose fat is the best way to go. High protein intakes are not dangerous, but what is dangerous is if you do not get all the vitamins and minerals required that comes from other sources such as fruits and vegetables, so you must leave room for them. High protein diets do not cause kidney problems or bone loss and in fact can improve fat loss, and build strong bones and muscles. Protein is an essential component of the body. You do not need to ingest extreme amounts of protein to get the benefits of it, somewhere in the middle is good enough.

My recommendation for protein intake

We are all different. You should find out which is best for you. If your goal is to lose fat, I would recommend having 30-40% of protein and focusing on getting 30-40% fats while the remainder should be carbohydrates with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. (so 40% fat 40% protein if you are the type to not hold onto muscle so easy while losing fat and the 20% from carbohydrates as an example). If you are lacking energy, and are really physically active have more carbohydrates and lower protein a little. If you cannot hold onto muscle, lack energy and are super physically active, lower fat, increase carbohydrates and keep protein to the higher end.

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References

1) Bonjour, J.P. (2005). Dietary Protein: an essential nutrient for bone health.

2) Kerstetter, J.E., Kenny, A.M., Insogna, K.L. (2011). Dietary protein and skeletal health: A review of recent human research.

3) Kuhnlein, H.V., R. Soueida, and O.Receveur. (1996). Dietary nutrient profiles of Canadian Baffin Island Inuit differ by food source, season, and age.

4) Allen, L.H., Oddove, E.A., Margen, S. (1979). Protein-induced hypercalciuria: a longer term study.

5) Gannon, M.C., Nuttall, F.Q., Saeed, A., Jordan, K., Hoover, H. (2003). An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes

6) Pins, J.J., and J.M., Keenan. (2006). Effects of whey peptides on cardiovascular disease risk factors.

7) Sorensen, L.B., Soe, M., Halkier, K.H., Stigsby, B., Astrup, A. (2012). Effects of increased dietary protein-to-carbohydrate ratios in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

8) Layman, D.K., E. Evans., J.I. Baum, J. Seyler, D.J. Erickson, R.A. Boileau. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women.

9) Phillips, S. (2006). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage.

10) Appel, J.L., Sacks, F.M., Carey, V.J., Obarzanek, E., Swain, J.F., Miller, E.R., Conlin, P.R., Erlinger, T.P., Rosner, B.A., Laranjo, N.M., Charleston, J., McCarron, P., Bishop, L.M. (2005). Effects of protein, Monounsaturated Fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids results of the OmniHeart Randomized trail.

11) Robinson, S.M., Jaccard, C., Persaud, C., Jackson, A.A., Jequier, E., and Schutz, Y. (1990). Protein turnover and thermogenesis in response to high-protein and high carbohydrate feeding in men.

12) Millward, D.J. (2004). Macronutrient intakes as determinants of dietary protein and amino acid adequacy.

13) Quevedo, M.R., G.M. Price, D. Halliday, P.J. Pacy, D.J. Millward. (1994). Nitrogen homoeostasis in man: diurnal changes in nitrogen excretion, leucine oxidation and whole body leucine kinetics during a reduction from a high to moderate protein intake.

14) Bhasin, S., Stoer, T.W., Berman, N., Callegari, C., Clevenger, B, et al. (1996). The effects of supraphusiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men.

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6 Comments

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