Heart Association Advises Against High-Protein Diets

October 11, 2001

2 Min Read
Heart Association Advises Against High-Protein Diets

DALLAS--The American Heart Association (AHA) issued an advisory in its Oct. 9 journal, Circulation (http://circ.ahajournals.org), that high-protein diets are not efficacious and may lead to health risks. AHA's Nutrition Committee wrote in its advisory that diets such as Atkins, the Zone, Protein Power and Sugar Busters, all of which promote weight loss through high protein consumption, are quick-fixes that are not beneficial to overall health.

"Many of these diets fail to provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutritional elements, in addition to their high fat content," said Robert Eckel, M.D., co-author of the advisory. He added that eating large quantities of high-fat animal foods over a long period of time has been shown to increase the risk for diabetes, cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease.

Another problem the committee had with high-protein diets is the limitation of certain foods that are rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium that have been shown to lower blood pressure. Eckel added that Americans eat more protein than their bodies need. In fact, a very high-protein diet may speed up the progression of diabetic renal disease. "In some individuals with kidney or liver disease, unneeded protein may put them at risk of worsening their disease," he stated.

In terms of weight loss, the committee said in its advisory that some high-protein, low-carb diets limit carbohydrates to 10 to 20 g/d, ". which is one-fifth of the minimum 100g/d that are necessary to prevent loss of lean muscle tissue," the committee wrote.

However, one leader in the high-protein/low-carb industry found holes in the committee's findings. "The research ignores evidence that supports alternative explanations," said Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc., director of education and research for Atkins Health and Medical Information Services in New York (www.atkinscenter.com). "The committee totally ignored some evidence supporting lower carbohydrate approaches to obesity and diabetes." Heimowitz stated that losing muscle mass due to low-carb intake is a fallacy. "Basic Science 101 tells you that low muscle mass is due to low protein levels, not low carbohydrates," she said.

She added that short-term trials (lasting from six months to a year) have shown that this diet has no adverse effects on the heart, kidney or liver, and that the committee only hypothesized that a steady diet high in fatty meat leads to poor health over a long period. "They're assuming this diet's dangerous," she said. "However, until more long-term research is conducted, it's unfair to say that. Just because there isn't [long-term] research that says otherwise, you also shouldn't assume that this means the diet is dangerous."

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