HIGH PROTEIN DIETS - BEWARE!
by Dr Gina Shaw, MA AIYS Dip. Irid.
There has been a craze sweeping across America, Britain and the rest of Europe over the past several years, both for a slimming diet and a diet being 'prescribed' for diabetic patients - its callled the high-protein diet. I wanted to point out that firstly this diet can be fatal, and that secondly it will not promote slimming or diabetes control in the long-run, in fact, on the contrary! It will lead only to further ill-health.
It is a fact that most people in this country are slowly and some cases quickly dying from malnutrition - that's poor nutrition. They overfeed on high-protein foods at the expense of carbohydrate foods and this, in turn, leads to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., etc. I repeat, most people in the Western world have an excess of protein (and fatty) foods, in the form of animal proteins usually.
According to the PCRM, though these high-protein, low carbohydrate plans differ in details, they share some common claims:
Myth 1: If we eat too many carbohydrates, we'll have too much insulin in our bodies. Excess insulin places us in what one writer calls 'carbohydrate hell'; The result is supposedly increased risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and a host of other health problems.
Myth 2: Human beings originally enjoyed a diet that was high in protein. Our bodies are genetically to this way of eating.
Myth 3: You can lose weight quickly and permanently by consuming more protein and eating fewer carbohydrates.
These diets therefore advocate a high animal-protein diet, rich in all flesh foods, eggs and milk, etc., but low in carbohydrate foods like fruits and vegetables.
High-protein foods are likely to be high in cholesterol and saturated fats - substances that can promote heart disease and various cancers. Weight loss from high-protein diets comes at first from losing water. However, long-term weight control means losing fat, a goal that calls for changing eating habits over time and from taking more exercise. On high protein diets people can temporarily lose large amounts of weight, and can even lower their blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides, says John McDougall, M.D., but the method is unhealthy. On a very low-carbohydrate diet, like the Atkins diet, the body burns fat, and byproducts of this are ketones, which suppress the appetite and can cause nausea. McDougall points out this same condition of ketosis occurs when people are ill; so they are freed to rest and recuperate, rather then be forced by hunger to gather and prepare food - because they simulate a state seen with serious illness.
These diets contain significant amounts of the very foods, i.e. meats, that the American and British cancer societies and heart associations tell us contribute to our most common causes of death and disability. The reason blood cholesterol, sugar, and triglycerides may be reduced on high protein diets is that people are eating much less because of their loss of appetite, and sometimes nausea. In general benefits are temporary because it is too unpleasant to be sick - so people go back to their old way of eating!
I, of course, would be the first to agree that yes, you can manipulate symptoms through diet but I would qualify that manipulation is not the same as healing and furthermore, it does not address the cause of the problem. Protein has such a high profile - courtesy of the meat and dairy industries, of course. Of course, we know that certain individuals who eat carbohydrates experience a sudden drop in blood sugar. These symptoms include lethargy and fatigue, poor concentration, mood swings, "foggy" brain, misperceptions, panic attacks, hot and cold sweats, and heart palpitations. We believe that the cause of this could be an inappropriate insulin response - too much insulin being secreted bringing the blood sugar levels down too much. So these sufferers are recommended to eat high protein/low carbohydrate diets. The symptoms will abate, according to Kathryn Alexander of the Gerson Institute because protein doesn't stimulate such a strong insulin release as carbohydrate. But, continuing a high-protein diet is what caused the diabetes on the first place, and continuing will not make us any healthier, in fact, quite the contrary!
The new wave of "hyper-insulinaemia" where we have moved on from hypo-glycaemia (low blood sugar) to high amounts of insulin in the blood stream. Alexander argues that the symptoms appear to be more-or-less the same along with the discovery of excess insulin in the blood stream. What's the answer? Reduce the secretion of insulin by omitting carbohydrates and increasing your protein intake. Once again manipulation of symptoms with diet - but as soon as you go back on the carbohydrates the symptoms return. Not only this - six months down the track on such a diet you start to experience new symptoms of a more chronic nature.
Good quality protein is essential for growth and tissue maintenance particularly during infancy, childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. However, excess protein creates acidity and puts a strain on the kidneys which will later affect the heart. Protein metabolism is under the control of our hormones. Insulin, growth hormone, and the sex hormones for the laying down of protein, and the corticosteroids for the breaking down of protein cortisone is the natural stress hormone, which is why one cannot heal if one is under stress as it opposes tissue synthesis and regeneration. The growth spurts from childhood through to adolescence are controlled by high levels of growth hormone and the sudden increase in sex hormones which, during puberty, rise to eight times the adult levels. Growth hormone and the sex hormones begin to fall after puberty until they reflect the stable adult levels by the early 20s.
So the health/sport professionals found that if they wanted to increase body muscle mass then it was necessary to take anabolic steroids along with a high protein intake. High protein intake on its own will not increase muscle size. Muscles store a very limited supply of protein and after this capacity is reached excess dietary protein has to be broken down and discarded. Exercising increases muscle tone and size because the more you "work" your muscles the greater their capacity to store carbohydrate fuel (not protein - muscles do not use protein for energy). Beware of the high protein message if you are seeking fitness. But the question arises, why should a person appear to have too much insulin - we can address "how" to reduce its secretion, but unless we address the why or the cause, then nothing is going to change and on a high protein diet the situation will inevitably deteriorate.
In order for the body to heal, no matter what the imbalance, it has to release its toxic load and rebuild its nutrient status. When this occurs, the vitality rises and healing begins. The body's intelligence will determine which areas will be healed and in what order. So again we see that the answer to disease lies in a plant-based diet, not in a calorie-rich but nutrient devoid animal-based one.
It is important that, when seeking medical advice one attends an examination by a qualified medical practitioner and that, when seeking dietary advice and wishing for a change in diet and lifestyle, then one seeks the competent advice of a nutritional adviser. The author makes no claim herein this article to be curing or treating any medical conditon whatsoever.
Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine
Gerson Healing Newsletter Vol. 16, No.2, Mar-April 2001