Genesis One, an evening of readings inspired by the book of Genesis, on Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. at The Castle

Vol. IV No. 20   ·   26 January 2001 


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High-protein diets are not for everybody

I'm a little overweight and would like to lose about 20 pounds. I've heard that you can lose weight quickly with a high-protein diet. Would this be a good diet for me to follow?

Although a high-protein diet can help you lose weight quickly, it is not recommended for people who are just looking to shed a few pounds. High-protein diets are a medical treatment for people who are considered clinically obese, namely individuals who are 20 to 30 percent over ideal weight for their age, sex, and height.

Protein is a source of energy for the body and is essential for growth and for repairing body tissue such as skin, muscle, bone, hair, blood, nails, and connective tissues. Protein is found in meat, cheese, beans, and dairy products. The amount of protein required

in a person's diet depends on age, sex, weight, activity level, and medical status. Between 15 and 20 percent of an average healthy person's daily calories should come from protein.

According to Wendy Anderson, a registered dietitian in the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, people on high-protein diets lose weight because they consume fewer calories than they normally would (less than 1,000 calories a day). These diets lead to diuresis, or fluid loss, and ketosis (fat catabolism) and also increase satiety, a feeling of fullness. A high-protein diet can be dangerous, however, as it may disrupt the body's acid-base balance.

High-protein diets allow a person to eat large quantities of protein, including meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and low-carbohydrate vegetables such as lettuce and cucumbers. They prohibit foods such as bread, cereal, rice, high-carbohydrate vegetables, fruits, and milk products except for cheese.

"High-protein diets are used primarily to treat obese patients, many of whom have other medical conditions as a result of their excess weight," says Anderson. These conditions can include diabetes, osteoarthritis, and hypertension. Weight loss can reduce the symptoms and complications that are often associated with these conditions, and in many cases resolve certain medical conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes.

People on high-protein diets require medical supervision because of potential medical complications. For example, high-protein diets eliminate carbohydrates, causing the body to burn fatty acids, which are then released into the bloodstream as ketones for fuel. An excess of these acids in the bloodstream

can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, kidney dysfunction, and cardiac arrhythmias. In addition, these low-calorie diets can cause dehydration, which places additional strain on the kidneys and heart and can accelerate kidney problems in people with diabetes or kidney disease.

High-protein diets should be followed only under medical supervision, and for a finite period of time. If you are interested in losing weight, Anderson says, the key is eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise. Your diet should include low-fat, high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, coupled with a reduction in portion size. Your exercise regimen should include aerobic activity, such as walking, at least three times per week. Start slowly and gradually increase your amount of exercise. This, say dietitians and doctors, is the best way to lose weight.

"Health Matters" is written in cooperation with staff members of Boston Medical Center. For more information on cataracts or other health matters, call 617-638-6767.


26 January 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations