High protein diets are nothing new; in fact, the trendy Ketogenic diet models itself on a pre-historic diet that contained no processed grains (for obvious reasons!).
However, while there is some research to suggest prioritising protein in your diet has immediate health benefits, the jury’s still out on whether this kind of diet is healthy in the long-term, or even sustainable.
Our dietitians drill down into the top 5 myths about a high-protein diet – and whether there’s any truth to them.
Myth 1: You’ll be healthier
High protein diets have been touted as the best fat burners because protein is harder to digest so it burns more calories and keeps you full for longer. This is true.
Most people starting a high protein diet do lose weight because they are less hungry, but also because eating few or no carbs forces the body to use some of its glycogen stores instead, and also releases water.
This can be harmful. In cutting out carbs, you’re cutting out the brain’s favourite fuel. Plus, consuming more protein than you need can lead to increased levels of uric acid in the blood, raising your risk of gout. Too much protein can also lead to higher cholesterol levels.
Myth 2: You can never have too much protein
Given that protein has so many benefits, does it automatically follow that a high-protein diet will be even better for you? Not really, says 12WBT dietitian Georgie Moore.
For starters, we need less protein than many people claim. Depending on how active we are, generally speaking we need 0.8g to 1.1g of protein per kg of body weight per day. For a 70kg woman or man, that would be around 56g to 77g of protein per day, give or take a couple of grams (1).
Myth 3: Your body prefers protein to carbohydrates
Most high-protein diets rely on cutting calories in the form of carbohydrates – and we need carbohydrates! After all, they too are one of the major food groups that are essential to our wellbeing.
They’re the body’s main source of energy, and they actually protect any lean muscle we already have or are trying to build – if we don’t get enough energy from carbs, our bodies will eventually use the protein in our muscles.
Carbs are also vital for good brain function. Some studies show that high-protein/low-carb diets can lead to bad moods and reduced cognitive ability.
Myth 4: You have to cut ALL carbs
Now, this is one for those of you who swear by the health benefits of a high-protein diet, but still balance it with the consumption of ‘good’ carbohydrates. We hear you!
Cutting out refined carbohydrates, such as highly processed white bread, is never a bad idea. Include quality carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice and quinoa.
Also read: The Skinny on Low Carb Diets
Myth 5: All protein sources are equal
This is absolutely not true! Some forms of protein – known as HBV or ‘high biological value’ – are considered better than plant-based protein because they’re more energy efficient, contain ideal amounts of amino acids and are more readily digested by the body.
The best HBV protein-rich foods are generally from animal proteins, so that means meat, eggs, milk and its by-products, such as whey.
If you’re vegetarian and looking for plant-based foods, tofu, legume, lentils and nuts are all great sources of protein, so make sure your diet includes adequate serves of these.