Warning to Dieters

High-protein diets that cut back on fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates put you at risk for multiple diseases and won’t help you lose weight, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

A diet high in protein tends to be higher in animal fat, which can increase cholesterol levels and the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke over time, the AHA said in an advisory published in the October 9, 2001, issue of Circulation. Also, according to the report, improved lipids and blood-glucose levels are the result of weight loss, not of the change in dietary composition to high protein.

In addition, the lack of fruits and vegetables in one’s diet can lead to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients that fight cancer and help maintain bone density, the report states.

“There’s a lot of concern that people are hopping from one fad diet to another and aren’t sticking to one long-term plan and getting the benefits of sustained weight reduction,” Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston and vice chairperson of the AHA’s Nutrition Committee, told HealthScout.

Specifically, Dr. Lichtenstein criticizes the Atkins, Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters and Stillman diets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a maximum of 30 percent of daily calorie intake should come from fat. The AHA advisory says that the Protein Power diet gets 54 percent of daily calories from fat; the Atkins diet gets 53 percent of its calories from fat; the Stillman diet, 33 percent; the Zone, 30 percent; and Sugar Busters, 21 percent.

Dr. Lichtenstein says the AHA committee did not find a lot of evidence that these diets promoted weight loss. Most of the initial drop in weight was a result of water loss from reducing carbohydrate intake, she explains. “In general, quick weight-loss diets don’t work for most people,” she maintains.

She recommends following a diet high in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, with low-fat dairy, meats and fish. “And [you should] maintain exercise so that the two efforts—diet and exercise—balance food consumption with energy expenditure,” she adds.

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