What Is a Low Carb/High Protein Diet?

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are promoted in great lengths. Falling under names such as Atkins, Zone, Sonoma and South Beach, they are technically variations of the same trend. They recommend 30% to 50% of the dieters’ total calories be consumed in the form of protein, while stressing removal or drastic reduction of carbohydrate consumption.

Recommendations made by the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Cancer Society suggest fewer calories are received from protein. This provides the body with nutrients deemed essential to building, maintenance, and repair of body tissue.

How Do These Diets Work?

By restricting carbohydrates to a fraction of what Americans typically eat, the body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis. The body burns its own fat for fuel where it would normally burn carbohydrates instead. A person in a state of ketosis receives energy from ketones, which is the fuel created by the breakdown of small carbon fragments. This leads to the breakdown of fat stores. Bodies in ketosis tend to feel less hungry, resulting in eating less than you might otherwise. However, ketosis can also cause serious health problems.

This diet results in your body changing from being a carbohydrate-burning engine into a fat-burning engine. Instead of wanting carbohydrate-rich stores, your fat stores become a primary energy source. This in turn results in weight loss, which can occur quite rapidly.

Low-carb diets like Atkins, Zone, Sonoma and South Beach suppress appetite better than traditional diets because high protein levels decrease hunger better than carbohydrates or fats. Restricting carbohydrates eliminates often-indulged foods such as bread, cereal, soft drinks, French fries and pizza.  By simply excluding carbohydrate foods, patients following low carb/high protein diets typically reduce their caloric intake by approximately 500 calories a day. Water loss accounts for a large amount of the early rapid decreases in bodyweight and uses up carbohydrate stores in your muscles and liver.

Unfortunately, high-protein diets can cause a number of health problems. These include, but aren’t limited to:

1 - Kidney failure. Protein-rich diets put added strain on the kidneys, which makes them susceptible to kidney disease.

2 - High cholesterol. Diets high in protein are directly linked to high cholesterol. Studies have linked high cholesterol levels to an elevated risk of developing heart disease, stroke and cancer.

3 - Osteoporosis and kidney stones. High protein diets can cause people to eliminate more calcium than normal through their urine. Over extended periods of time, this can increase a person's risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.

4 - Cancer. Foods containing carbohydrates also contain vitamins, minerals, fiber as well as antioxidants. By avoiding carbs, you are depriving your body of these essential elements. It’s very important to obtain protein from a variety of foods. Eating whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables will ensure your need for protein is met, but will also help reduce your risk of developing cancer.

5 - Unhealthy metabolic state (ketosis). Low carb diets can cause ketosis, where your body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. This could result in potential organ failure or other problems such as gout, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Ketones can dull a person's appetite, and cause nausea and bad breath. Ketosis can be prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.

Before starting this or any diet, be sure to talk with your doctor to determine what approach is right for you. They may prescribe a low-carb/high protein diet, but will likely require you to come in periodically for check-ups. This type of diet may be popular, but your doctor may recommend another one; following their advice could save your life.