So-called `new' high-protein diets are the same old bad news

Section: Weight Manager

The health and diet aisle of your local bookstore is chock full of titles such as Protein Power, The Zone, Healthy for Life, The 5 Day Miracle Diet, and Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, all featuring protein-powered diets. Such diets have a decidedly familiar ring. They are making a comeback from their heyday in the 1970's. But people won't lose weight for good now, any more than they did then.

The common denominator in these diets is that they all push protein and downplay carbohydrates. Following such a diet results in an immediate and dramatic loss of body fluid, which is instantly rewarding to the dieter and is often mistakenly interpreted as a loss of body fat.

At the same time, insufficient carbohydrates can cause the body to form compounds called ketones, which can cause fatigue, weakness, headache, irritability, bad breath, dehydration and kidney trouble. Such ketogenic diets are especially dangerous for older people or those with untreated diabetes.

Ironically, these diets often seem adequate, because fats and protein stay in the stomach longer than carbohydrates, so they satisfy hunger. Moreover, ketones dull the appetite.

Here's a capsule lowdown on the three bestsellers in the bunch:

There's little new information in Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution. The original high-protein diet guru continues to rehash his high-protein, relatively high-fat diet with carbohydrate levels ranging from a meager 15 grams (one serving of fruit, bread, rice or pasta) to a barely adequate 60 grams a day for beginning dieters.

The 5 Day Miracle Diet, by Adelle Puhn, is a bit more generous with carbohydrates, but not much. Women are advised to eat starchy vegetables, potatoes or beans only on alternate days--either for lunch or dinner, but not both. What about pasta? Not more than twice a week and only at dinner. Why? Beats us.

The diet in Barry Sears' The Zone is referred to as "40-30-30" by those in the know, meaning 40% of calories as carbohydrate, 30% as protein and 30% as fat. This is still considerably more protein (two to three times) and less carbohydrate than most nutritionists recommend. However, you're unlikely to experience a buildup of ketones on this diet. (See EN, January 1996.)

The Bottom Line. So what's the alternative? While it may not be a hot new trend, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with modest amounts of lean meats and low-fat dairy foods, and coupled with regular physical activity, is the safest, surest bet for keeping off unwanted pounds.

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