We typically review our diets and make New Year’s resolutions the first of the year. Like me, I’ll bet you’ve made — and broken — plenty of resolutions. These days, though, it’s tough to know which diet you should follow. Should you follow some of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets? Or should you try one of the high-carbohydrate, low-protein programs?
This year, instead of starting another weight-loss program, concentrate on eating a healthy diet. The best diet for you will help you reach your ideal weight while providing you with the nutrients you need to be and stay healthy.
But what makes a good diet — concentrating on high protein or high carbohydrate? Some people burn calories fast and do better eating more complex carbohydrates. Hint: They’re usually thin people. Others burn calories slowly. These people feel and look best when they eat more protein. Either way, getting sufficient protein is vital. So is eating good quality foods — foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fats, and low in toxins.
You might think that because I’m a vegetarian, I’m biased against meat-based diets. Actually, I’m biased against unhealthy diets. It’s tough to be a healthy vegetarian and get enough protein. It’s not much easier to be a healthy carnivore and eat good quality protein that’s not laced with toxins.
Call it insulin resistance, Syndrome X, or hyperinsulinemia — they all mean that when you eat a lot of starches or sugars, your blood sugar rises too high and your body doesn’t secrete insulin appropriately. Instead of using these foods for energy, your body stores its calories in fat tissues. Carbohydrate sensitivity causes weight gain, raises your cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, and contributes to diabetes.
Yo-yo dieting, not exercising, and a diet high in refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, white rice), alcohol abuse, and smoking all contribute to carbohydrate sensitivity. About 25 percent of all Americans and 75 percent of overweight people have insulin resistance. Dr. Robert Atkins developed his high-protein diet to correct this problem.
Enter Dr. Atkins
For more than 40 years, Robert Atkins was a medical doctor who used nutrition in his practice. He noticed a common problem in many patients that affected their health and weight: Fluctuating blood-sugar levels. His solution was simple. Avoid refined carbohydrates and greatly increase animal protein and unprocessed fats to stabilize blood sugar. Eat more fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants to counteract the damage from free radicals that occur in a diet high in rancid and processed fats.
To meet the needs of his overweight patients, he developed a radical weight-loss program emphasizing animal protein and eliminating carbohydrates, even those that were unrefined. His patients lost weight and their glucose levels stabilized. However, this diet is high in pesticides, hormones, and other toxins that are stored in the fat tissues of meat, chicken, dairy, and fish. And a large study on nutrition and disease concluded that a diet high in animal protein contributes to cancer and heart disease.
While Dr. Atkins insists that eating so much meat won’t raise your cholesterol, my brother’s cholesterol skyrocketed on this diet – and he ate lots of veggies like a good boy. If you eat a high animal-protein diet for more than a few months, get your cholesterol checked. My greatest quarrel with the Atkins weight loss diet is that it doesn’t emphasize food quality. Ann Louise Gittleman does.
Among modern hunter-gatherers, the percentages of total protein and fat have been found to vary from 36 percent to 97 percent, with total carbohydrates varying from three percent to 64 percent – and the people at both “extremes” are equally disease-free.
– Jonathan V. Wright, MD
Beyond Atkins: The Gittleman approach
Ann Louise Gittleman is a nutritionist who has studied with some of the top researchers in the field of nutrition. She is author of over a dozen books, my favorite one being The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw-Hill, 2002).
One major difference between Ann Louise and Dr. Atkins is that Ann Louise emphasizes high-quality foods. The difference is huge. A diet high in essential fats is a healthy diet. One high in the fats found in meats is less healthy because toxins are stored in animals’ fat cells and animal fats contribute to increased inflammation.
Why buy organic?
There are convincing studies linking toxins to chronic diseases. Some pesticides act like synthetic estrogen, raising your risk for breast cancer. Other pesticides are known carcinogens and neurotoxins. Many of these contaminants, including heavy metals, are stored in your liver. As they increase, they can affect your health. Buy organically grown foods whenever you can find and afford them.
Wash any non-organic foods in a Clorox bath. That’s right, Clorox. No other bleach has been tested. I wrote about this technique in my first book, The Nutrition Detective (now out of print) in 1985. Ann Louise learned this also and explains how to remove pesticides, parasites, bacteria, and other contaminants from various foods in The Fat Flush Plan.
You can also find vegetable washes in health food stores. One that removes pesticides, waxes, dirt, and oil, is called Environne Fruit & Vegetable Wash (800-282-WASH).
Protein: How much and what kind?
You may be surprised to learn that an adult woman needs about 60 grams of protein a day — 20 at each meal. That’s a lot if you’re a vegetarian, or if you’re a meat-eater who has cereal or toast for breakfast. But when I increased my protein five years ago, I noticed increased energy and strength. Since many contaminants are stored in fat cells, the fats in meats are storage bins for health-destroying toxins. However, meats (including chicken and fish) are much higher in protein than soy and other legumes.
Like the old gray mare, the quality of protein just “ain’t what it used to be.” Once, clean and lean, it’s now fatty and laced with pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, mercury, and other toxic substances. Wild game contains 3.9 percent fat. Today’s beef and pork is 25-35 percent fat.
If you eat meat, buy grass-fed rather than the widely available grain-fed animals whenever possible. They’re lower in saturated fat and higher in essential fats (omega-3 and CLA). If you eat grain-fed meats, add more essential fats to your diet like fish oil and flax oil. Dozens of sources for grass-fed beef can be found in The Fat Flush Plan. If all you use is the resource section of this book — and you’ll use much more — it’s worth the cost.
Eating most chicken isn’t any better than eating grain-fed meat. In fact, I think it’s worse. Commercially grown chickens are overcrowded, diseased, and given high amounts of antibiotics and growth-stimulating hormones. Studies show that 30 percent of them have salmonella contamination, while more than 60 percent have campylobacter, a bacteria found in fecal material.
You can avoid these problems if you buy free-range chickens. They’re healthier and lower in total fat with 100 percent more essential fats (EFAs). Free-range eggs contain 400 percent more EFAs than ordinary eggs. Omega-3-enriched eggs have even more. Two eggs a day provide good quality protein without elevating cholesterol.
Most oceans, lakes, and streams are polluted. Still, wild rather than farmed fish, are your best choice for animal protein. Much farmed fish is overcrowded and low in EFAs. Choose smaller fish. They have fewer pesticides and mercury than larger varieties. If you’re taking fish-oil supplements, make sure they’re free from both mercury and pesticides. The essential fatty acids included in Vitality Plus vitamin packs (800-728-2288) and OmegaThera, by ProThera, (888-488-2488) are guaranteed to be contaminant-free.
Soy is a healthy low-fat protein you can safely eat once a day. Choose organic or non-GMO (genetically modified) soy. We don’t know the safety of genetically modified foods. They’re not safe enough to be sold in Europe, but safe enough for U.S. corporations to sell them to you. Until we know they’re safe, eat only non-GMO soy products. Soy contains healthy plant estrogens that get into our estrogen receptors and block the uptake of harmful estrogens. The safety of soy has been greatly debated. I still think it’s a healthy protein in moderation.
Legumes, or beans, are high in both protein and unrefined carbohydrates. To slow down their conversion from starch to sugar, add healthy fats, such as one teaspoon of olive oil or flaxseed oil, to them so they turn into sugar more slowly.
Bottom Line: Get enough protein. Eat more carbs if you’re thin and burn energy faster. Eat fewer carbs if you have a weight problem. And, most importantly, concentrate on the quality of all the foods you eat.
Atkins, Robert C, MD. Dr. Atkins’ Age-Defying Diet Revolution, St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Cherniske, Stephen, MS. The Metabolic Plan, Ballantine Books, 2003.
Gittleman, Ann Louise, MS, CNS. The Fat Flush Plan, McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Smith, Timothy J., MD. Renewal, The anti-aging revolution, St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Williams, Roger J. Biochemical Individuality, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1959.
Wright, Jonathan V. “The ‘original human diet’ secret to erasing cancer, diabetes, obesity, and more,” Nutrition & Healing, January 2003.
Proteins in Common Foods
Beef (4 oz lean ground) 28 grams
Chicken (3.5 oz lean) 30 grams
Egg (1) 6 grams
Garbanzo/Kidney beans (1/2 cup) 7 grams
Peanut butter (2 Tbsp) 7.7-9 grams
Protein powder (1 Tbsp, rice) 12 grams
Soybeans (1/2 cup dry roasted) 34 grams
Soybeans (1/2 cup boiled Edamame) 11 grams
Tofu (3 oz) 6-7 grams
Tuna (3 oz water packed) 25 grams
Veggie Burger (Amy’s/Gardenburger) 12-15 grams