Health

The Case Against the High-Protein Diets

The renewed popularity of beef, due largely to Robert Atkins high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, is the cause of the comeback of a crime that was once rampant in the Old West but died out in the nineteenth-century cattle rustling. The rise in beef prices as a result of the increase in beef sales is responsible. Newborn calves, not yet branded, are being stolen from grazing lands on ranches, loaded into pickup trucks, and sold on the black market for a considerable profit.

But the theft of calves may be much less of a problem than the situation that caused it—the increase in the consumption of beef. Too much of any kind of protein in the diet is dangerous to health. Just as a low-carb diet doesn’t supply enough fuel to satisfy the body’s energy requirements, Atkins’ advice to eat as much red meat as it takes to satisfy the appetite not only goes against the body’s fairly modest protein requirements, it also causes health problems.

A high-protein diet creates an excessive amount of acid in the body that inflames tissues, provides a favorable environment for yeast and unfriendly bacteria, and increases the risk of kidney stones. Furthermore, a study cited in the New York Times found that adults on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet experienced a 50 percent loss of calcium in their urine.

The Case Against the Glycemic Index

One or the other of the three basic food groups meat, fat, or carbohydrates has variously been held responsible by nutritionists and diet book authors for the rising incidence of obesity and health problems in the United States. In the 1980s many diet plans recommended avoiding or limiting red meat and saturated fat, and a number of diets still do. But the majority of the diet gurus today have focused their ire on carbohydrates.

The two leading low-carbohydrate promoters, the late Robert Atkins and Arthur Agatston argue that because carbohydrates raise blood sugar the amount of sugar that a given food releases into the blood is measured by the glycemic index of those individuals who wish to lose weight and/or avoid diabetes should make carbohydrate foods the smallest part of their diet.

Be Aware of Diet Fads

Fad diets and fast foods have found fertile ground in the United States because there is no traditional diet of healthy foods that would alert people to the danger of following trendy diet plans. Nor would tradition prevent diet authors from picking and choosing from the mass of scientific data the facts that give a scientific underpinning to their diet plan, while ignoring the scientific information that goes against it.

Vegetables also help raise mineral levels in the body provided there are enough fat-soluble vitamins A and D in the diet to assimilate the minerals. Because individuals who have excessive levels of some minerals are usually deficient in others, they need to eat more of the vegetables that will normalize their deficient mineral levels and less of those that contain large amounts of the minerals in which they are oversupplied. Because it is in the pigment of plants that many of the minerals and other nutrients in plants are stored, the choice of vegetables depends to some extent upon color.

For example, anyone with a potassium deficiency needs green, leafy plants because the dark green pigment in these leafy plants contains high levels of potassium; on the other hand, eating white, orange, yellow, and light green plants increases calcium levels in the body. When we lack a particular nutrient, we also lack one of the pigments that store this nutrient. (See the sidebar “Fruit and Vegetable Choices for Grain and Meat Eaters.”)

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