Researchers say that a high protein diet could be more effective than other diets at helping people drop pounds. With calories, fat, and all other things being equal, the study indicates a high protein diet is better than one with standard protein and higher carbs. Critics including myself, however, aren’t so sure about the validity of the work.
“The studies are generally far too short to tell impact,” said Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic. Also, he went on, “many are inadequately conducted to be relevant.”
The research looked at 24 past trials including 1,063 people. Half of the dieters were put on a reduced calories, low fat diet with high protein (85 grams/day), while the others were put on a similarly low calorie and low fat diet, but with a standard amount of protein (49 grams/day).
The dieters were tracked for an average of 12 weeks. Those consuming the higher protein diet lost about 1.8 pounds more than the others. While this number isn’t a huge difference, “It may still represent clinical relevance on a population level,” said the study’s lead author Thomas Wycherley from the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
In an effort to determine why the high protein diet caused more weight loss, researchers suggested several possibilities: that the body may spend more calories/energy in digesting the protein, or that eating protein helps preserve muscle mass, which in turn increases metabolism.
A crucial piece of information seems to be left out of the research’s media coverage, however, and that is: what type of carbohydrates were dieters consuming? There is a major difference in how your body processes white bread or whole grain bread, for instance. And an even bigger difference in how it processes white bread when compared with sweet potatoes, or spinach. In other words—there are far too many foods classified as “carbohydrate-rich” to lump them altogether in a study like this.
The effects of processed carbs on your blood sugar levels is enough to actually encourage obesity, so it makes sense if the dieters were eating breads and crackers (even if they were low-fat and low-calorie), that they would lose less weight than the people shunning carbs on a larger scale in favor of protein.
Obviously, the study is too limited to draw such sweeping conclusions. While the focus on getting 6-11 servings of carbohydrates per day by the old food pyramid was likely a little over-the-top– as bread products were the only things listed there– that doesn’t mean we should shun all carbs in favor of protein. Balance is key. Getting the majority of your carbohydrate-calories from vegetables is crucial for fighting obesity and regulating blood sugar. And balancing that intake with a moderate amount of high quality protein can ensure your body has the optimal nutrients for efficient operation.