Many people have turned to the high protein, low carbohydrate diet in a desperate
attempt to lose weight. This diet is promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins and is often referred to as the Atkins Diet. Contrary to
popular belief, Dr. Atkins was not the inventor of this diet. In fact, an obese undertaker named Banting originally discovered
it in 1837. Mr. Banting noticed that when he just ate protein foods, he lost weight. His diet quickly became popular and those
on this diet were said to be Banting. He soon attracted many followers, they became known as Bantings Knights. Later, medical
doctors prescribed this diet and it was termed the high uremic diet. It received this name because those on this diet generally
lose large amounts of water. In reality, most of the weight lost experienced is a result of water loss.
The reason for
the water loss is simple. Protein in the form of amino acids contains nitrogen in addition to carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.
When the nitrogen splits off the amino acid, it binds to three hydrogen atoms forming NH3 (ammonia). Urea is also another
waste product from protein metabolism. Both these substances are toxic in the body and a large amount of water is required
for their excretion. If insufficient water is consumed, then that water comes out of the bodys intercellular fluid. Since
the body is composed of about 75% water, it is evident that most of the weight loss is water rather than fat.
that carbohydrates can be replaced as a source of energy by protein or fat. However, a series of undesirable events occur
when carbohydrate intake is consistently below fifty grams per day. These symptoms are remarkably similar to those that develop
during starvation. First, there is a large loss of both sodium and water. The loss of sodium is then followed by a loss of
potassium, which usually leads to weakness. Unless dietary caloric intake remains high, body protein begins to breakdown,
causing muscle wasting, fatigue and increased weakness. As these conditions persist, the metabolic rate will actually slow
down. This is deleterious for intentional weight loss efforts, because this reduced metabolic rate may not return to normal
for several weeks or months after this diet is stopped. That accounts for the rapid resumption of weight gain once this diet
It is important to note that extra amino acids are not stored in the body as protein. The nitrogen splits
off, and only the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen remains intact. This basically a carbohydrate that is eventually converted into
glucose. It can then either be used as an energy source, or converted into fatty acids and stored in the body as fat in the
form of triglycerides.
The high phenylalanine content of meat and diary can compete with tryptophan for absorption into
the brain. Without tryptophan, the neurotransmitter serotonin can not be produced. Decreased serotonin levels leading to depression,
is another common side effect of consuming too much protein.
This diet is also known as the ketogenic (ketone-forming)
diet. Fats can not be properly oxidized without carbohydrates. This results in a build up of the intermediates of fat oxidation
called ketone bodies. As ketones continue to accumulate, they become abnormal components of blood and urine. In addition,
there is an increased production of lactic acid, which is normally found as a by-product of anaerobic metabolism. Both ketones
and lactic acid change the hydrogen ion (acid/base) balance of the body towards a lower serum pH (more acid). Acidity can
interfere with normal body functions. For optimum health, the body prefers to be slightly alkaline. Calcium can actually be
dissolved out of the bones by acidic blood in the bodys attempt to restore the proper pH level. The abnormal build up of ketones
is known as ketosis, while a build up of lactic acid is called lactic acidosis. Both these conditions are considered serious
and are associated with fatigue, dehydration and severe loss of stamina. This can also be life-threatening for those with
poor kidney function. Furthermore, an acidic environment is favorable to viruses, bacteria and tumor cells.
excessive amounts of the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine, commonly found in animal products, can degrade into cresol,
phenols and nitrosamines such as cadaverine. These are substances implicated with the promotion of skin and colon cancers.
Animal protein is also high in methionine that can contribute to elevated homocysteine levels, an important risk factor for
Excess protein can lead to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. In this case, proteins are absorbed
into the blood stream before they are properly broken down. This absorbed protein is treated as a foreign invader and it invokes
an immune response. This can lead to allergic reactions or hypersensitivity with symptoms commonly manifested as sinusitis,
runny nose, sneezing, asthma, skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This can overwork
the immune system, eventually leading to immune dysfunction.
In addition, this diet can place an unnecessary strain on
both the liver and the kidneys. Anyone with liver or kidney disease should not attempt a high protein diet. Everyone on this
weight-loss diet should be monitored by a physician.
Restoring enough carbohydrates to the diet can reverse all of these
conditions. That is a good indication that carbohydrates, in the form of complex carbohydrates, are essential to the diet.
A nutritionist can help provide the proper guidance for a safe and efficient weight loss program. On the other hand, given
all the complications of the high protein diet, it can be concluded that it may not be prudent to follow nutritional advice
from an undertaker.