In recent years, many people have praised the health benefits of a high-protein diet due to its impact on muscle development, weight loss, heart health, appetite, energy levels and chronic disease. However, some people don’t understand the basics of this type of diet, including the restrictions, potential health risks, and best ways to achieve a healthy dietary balance.
What is a High-protein Diet?
A high-protein diet consists primarily of good protein sources but is also supported by an intake of carbohydrates and fats. Some of the most popular high-protein diets include the Paleo Diet and the Atkin’s Diet, both of which show regular success in helping people lose weight, improving heart health, optimizing digestion and boosting muscle growth.
However, it is important to understand the role that protein plays in the body before you decide whether to go on a high-protein diet. For example, if you are trying to lose weight by increasing your protein intake, you must also increase your exercise levels, because an excess of protein that is not being catabolized (burned up) is not good for the body. Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are the true building blocks in our body and proteins are constantly being synthesized and broken down by the body.
By going on a high-protein diet, you are essentially giving your body an excess of raw materials that it can work with, replacing calories typically gained through carbohydrates, which are more readily stored as fat. For people who want to increase muscle growth or stimulate development/repair, protein is an essential component of the diet, as it is involved in the production of everything from connective tissue and skin to the blood and veins.
Best Protein Options for Weight Loss
If you want to go on a high-protein diet with the intention of losing weight, some of your best options are complete proteins, such as soybeans, hemp seed, quinoa, artichokes, beans, lentils, peanut butter, and almonds.
Soybeans: 68 grams (of protein) per cup
Artichokes: 4 grams per artichoke
Peanut Butter: 65 grams per cup
Almonds: 20 grams per cup
Quinoa: 8 grams per cup (cooked)
Black Beans: 39 grams per cup
Lentils: 18 grams per cup (boiled)
Hemp Seed: 63 grams per cup
Who should be On a High-protein Diet?
Going on a high-protein diet is a good idea for people as they reach middle age, to stay from a carb-heavy diet, those trying to build muscle fast, and those who have struggled with weight loss in the past.
If you have predominantly been on a carb-heavy diet for an extended period of time, there is a good chance that you have an excess fat deposition in some parts of your body. By switching to a diet that is high in protein, you are able to increase your muscle mass, if combined with exercise, and hopefully, reduce your body’s dependence on basic carbohydrates and simple sugars. This can increase your energy levels, immune system, and metabolic speed.
As you grow older, more things in the body begin to break down, requiring more repair, and a faster turnover of protein. Since some protein is always being lost in the urine and stool, a continuous new supply is necessary. As you age, more protein is needed to keep up with the body’s essential processes.
The best raw material for the creation of new muscle tissue is protein. As you exercise, the muscle tissue becomes damaged and forms micro-tears in muscles. The recovery from any workout involves new protein filling in those gaps, thus strengthening and enlarging the muscle. That is why so many bodybuilders and athletes go on high-protein diets, as they need the continual re-fill of protein.
Weight Loss Issues
If you are someone who has struggled with weight gain and weight loss in the past, your body is likely very receptive to carbohydrate intake. By switching to a protein-oriented diet, you are less likely to experience weight fluctuations and will be more in control of your energy levels and calorie intake on a daily basis.
List of High-protein Diet Foods
Chia Seeds: 34 grams of protein per cup
Pistachios: 25 grams per cup
Falafel: 13 grams of protein per 100 grams
Avocados: 4 grams per avocado
Halibut: 14 grams per 100 grams
Eggs: 6 grams per egg (large)
Turkey: 26 grams per breast (skinless, roasted)
Flaxseed: 31 grams per cup
High-protein Diet Drinks
If you want a protein-packed beverage, there are countless protein shakes on the market in a variety of flavors from dozens of different companies. You can also make your own protein-dense shakes and beverages at home by combining certain high-protein fruits or vegetables, such as guavas, blackberries, apricots, nectarines, grapefruit, raspberries and passion fruit.
Some of the best high-protein drinks on the market include the following:
Paleo Protein Pure Egg
Sunwarrior Blend Raw Protein Powder
Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein
Zero Belly Protein Powder
High-protein Frozen Foods
Most diets don’t focus mainly on frozen foods, as they are notoriously high in sodium, saturated fat and calories, but for people on a high-protein diet, there are a few companies that offer high-protein options in frozen form. The companies listed below are the largest distributors of high-protein frozen meals, with protein content ranging from 15 grams to 24 grams per meal.
Dietary Protein Intake
Most experts agree that daily protein intake should be between 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/day) and 1.2 g/kg/day. That is a significant difference, but for a 150-pound man (68kg), that would mean between 41 and 82 grams of protein per day.
There is a lot of debate about how much protein we actually need in our diet, versus how much we regularly get. Depending on what your health goals are, the answer also may be different. If you want to lose weight, some people argue that less protein is needed, since there is so much protein that needs to be catabolized from that excess skin and tissue as you lose weight. Some argue that the average person consumes too much protein as it is, which can increase the risk of various health conditions, including osteoporosis.
Speaking to your doctor about your particular protein needs, expenditure and nutrient balance is critical before embarking on a dramatic high-protein diet that may have unexpected side effects.
High-protein Diet Myths
There are quite a few untrue claims regarding high-protein diets that may dissuade or confuse you while doing your research, but before you make a major change to your dietary approach, it’s best to find out the truth. While there are some studies that have found potential connections between excess levels of protein and certain health conditions or risks, there is limited support for a standard upper limit for protein intake per day.
Excess protein turns into fat: Protein in its most basic form does not contribute to more weight gain, according to numerous studies, although the other foods and side dishes associated with protein can often lead to weight gain if consumed in excess.
Too much protein can lead to diabetes: This has been completely debunked in numerous studies, which actually shows that adequate or high protein levels can increase insulin sensitivity and lower your risk of diabetes, while also promoting satiety and preventing overeating.
There is a limit to usable protein per meal: While protein catabolism does slow down after a certain point (typically around 30 grams of protein in one sitting), this doesn’t mean that the excess protein is unused. It is simply broken down at a slower rate, keeping your metabolism working for even longer.
High-protein diets damage the liver and kidneys: Studies have actually shown that high levels of protein can improve the liver’s ability to regenerate, and in terms of excess calcium deposition, it can be risky in those with pre-existing kidney conditions but for those with healthy kidneys, a lack of protein can actually increase your risk of renal failure.
High-protein diets reduce bone mineral density: Protein intake can actually increase the body’s ability to source minerals and nutrients from food, which will increase bone mineral density as we age, particularly in women.