Building Blocks
01 January 2014

I was asked by a patient one month ago if I was agreeable to her going on a "high-protein" diet, the kind of diet others might call "low-carb". I wasn't keen. The more I learn about weight management the more convinced I become that the best way, the only way to lose weight and keep it off, is through two simple steps. Increased physical activity, and decreased energy intake......but, key to both of these, is that it's done in a balanced, sustainable way. In other words, a sudden rush to the gym might make you feel good, but if it's not something that fits into your weekly routine any benefit will be short lived. Equally, any "diet" which promotes quirky habits, which involve excluding some foods, eating others to excess, or even avoiding "real" food altogether is, in my experience, unlikely to deliver the goods. In short, I'd say life is about balance. Get the balance right, and most things will fall into place. Naturally.

So, to the high protein diet. I wouldn't advise it. It doesn't lead to long term beneficial habit change. Please don't misunderstand me, proteins are a vital part of our every day diet. They are the building blocks we use to develop skin, muscle, bone and organs. Women aged between 19-55 years need around 45 gm of protein a day, and men of a similar age need a little more, around 55gm. The excuse men have is that they have a larger muscle frame, which requires more protein. The ideal source of protein is usually thought to be meat, fish, eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt. But plant foods can also be a great source, like pulses, grains, seeds and nuts. You can eat too much of a good thing though. Excessive protein intake can lead to calcium loss and foods that are high in protein like red meat are often high in saturated fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Variety can be the spice of life, and when it comes to food, that's certainly true. Food is important to us. So make sure you can enjoy it. But get the balance right. Make your diet varied and nutritionally balanced. Make your plate colourful, with lots of nutrient giving vegetables. And build your own success. By the way, I saw my patient again this week. She took my advice, and is doing just fine.

References: pgs 44,45, Nutrition for Life, Hark et al, Dorling Kindersely

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