I will be the first to admit that dietary intakes of carbohydrates did – has(!) -- spiraled out of control. We took a good thing –carbohydrates—and started to eat more of them for our own good! This started the ‘violation’ of the ‘not too little, not too much’ rule. That is, the Agricultural Revolution was good! It enabled mankind to produce more food for less toil and costs. It was a way to help properly nourish more people, across greater locations in the world. Certainly, post the World Wars era, it helped to improve peoples’ health. But, at a certain point, probably mid-1960s/1970s, we started on, at first, a gradual, and, eventually, a consistent and rapid path toward consumption of too much carbohydrate. Portions of breads and grain-based items became larger and larger. What was considered ‘a muffin’ morphed into ‘a MUFFIN’ that was more the size of a muffin loaf. Slices of bread, bagels, rolls, donuts, slices of pie and cake all doubled, often-trebled in size even though they were served or still considered as ‘one portion’. Heavy-in-carbohydrate, especially, simple-carbohydrates (sugars!) foods and drinks, such as, soft drinks, pre-packaged cakes, desserts, snacks and candy, convenience foods, and fast foods, exploded onto the marketplace with great selection, competitive pricing, and access. Ever-increasing portion sizes of all these foods continued and were thought of as ‘normal’. We got ‘more’ food and drinks, at low prices. People, naturally, started to consume more carbohydrates (thus, calories) than their bodies needed and we started to see more cases of overweight and obese people. Public health and medical experts started looking for reasons. The fat in our foods came under scrutiny as the primary cause of the burgeoning weight problem. We then saw an explosion of fat-free, low-fat foods. People thought they could eat as much as they wanted of these fat-free, light foods. Unfortunately, these foods were, of course, not calorie-free, and even more carbohydrate crept into our food products to replace fat. Calorie intakes increased, probably, even more. Thus, peoples’ weight continued to increase. L Especially in the socio-economic strata of societies (working and low to middle class) --where food is as much a source of entertainment; a tangible sign of success, love, and ‘good care’ for self and family; and comfort, as it is nourishment -- the weights of people really soared. People in higher SES groups, who had the means and access to a more-sustained nutritious, less calorific diet and other-than-food sources of entertainment, activity, hobbies, and feelings-of-success, seemed to be spared. But the prevalence of overweight and obesity, eventually, started to rise in, even, these groups. There are so many other factors complicit to the obesity epidemic that I just can’t get into here, but for the sake of this discussion, what followed next and continues to this day, is that high-protein diets emerged on the scene as the panacea to help people lose weight.
Some medical practitioners took a few aspects about protein – 1) protein can be used as a source of fuel for the body 2) protein foods are much more satiating than carbohydrates, yet less calorific than fats 3) low-to-nil, almost, exclusive consumption of protein gets and keeps the body in a state of body-fat burning ketosis. Thus, high-protein diets emerged as a panacea for overweight and obese people, purporting to effect in rapid, assured weight loss, whilst keeping body muscle and protein intact. And, what was even more enticing, it was claimed that you could eat as much as you want of the allowed foods and the diet would still work its miracle!
As much as the above aspects about protein are true, they are just part of the reality of what happens to the body when on a high-protein diet. The full truth -- high-protein diets, especially if sustained for long periods of time, can be very harmful to the body! Firstly, the body can use protein as a source of fuel and energy, but the body prefers carbohydrate -- even exclusively for the brain – as it needs glucose, the normal, healthy end-product of carbohydrate metabolism -- first and best. Gluconeogenesis, the process by which protein is broken down and ‘re-worked’ by the body to synthesize glucose to use as energy, is actually a much more inefficient way for us to get the energy we need to function! It’s great to have this pathway, as it serves us in times of starvation and stress, but it really is counterproductive, even harmful, as a sustained source of our fuel. It takes longer to generate the glucose we need and the by-products of sustained gluconeogenesis can wreak havoc to the body, especially the liver and kidneys, where most of this process takes place. Next, it sounds all great that keeping our bodies in, more or less, a constant state of ketosis will help us burn our fat stores, but, the fact is, it comes at a huge price to our health! L It screws up the necessary acid-base medium we need to keep our bodies, optimally, performing its enzymatic, immunologic, metabolic, and repair mechanisms. That is, all of these processes function best in an alkaline environment. Most animal protein foods, such as meat, eggs, cheese, and dairy are acid-producing whilst fruits and vegetables are alkaline-producing. If alkalizing mineral salts, such as potassium citrate and malate, which are plentiful in vegetables and fruits, are not present in the diet, the intracellular spaces of the body become acidotic. This metabolic acidosis is a key contributing factor to many degenerative, debilitating, aging, bothersome conditions, such as, impaired energy production and lethargy, fluid retention, edema, increased free radical production, loss of bone mineral, loss of muscle mass, increased calcium excretion, increased kidney stones, and horrific bad breath. Many pro-high protein advocates use research on Inuit Eskimos, Sioux Indians of Northwestern US, and the South American Gaucho to extol the virtues of high-protein diets. They claim these populations sustained themselves under extraordinary conditions, on almost-exclusively foods of protein, in not just good health, but strong and robust health. But the research, when investigated further, just does not hold up. The Inuit probably did get plenty of alkalizing dietary intake from the shrub vegetation they consumed. Additionally, their protein intake was primarily from marine sources which are inordinately high in omega-3-fatty acids, vitamins, D, E, A, and K, which may have mediated effects of acidosis and damage to organs. Also, this population had early death rates – mainly from parasitic infections (they ate much raw food) and tuberculosis! Thus, research on them doesn’t help in elucidating the effects of extreme protein intakes on an older than mid-30’s, aging population, anyway! The Sioux and Gaucho, similarly, managed to consume much more vegetation than originally thought. Plus, all of these heavy meat/fish-eaters ate whole animals. Organ meats, especially raw, are very high in available vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants representative of all the plant-based substances the animals ate! J
It’s important to note that nothing we eat can change the ph of the blood (stays slightly alkaline at 7.35-7.45; ph of 7= neutral) because the body needs to keep that constant, but everything else seems to suffer, at the expense of doing that. And lastly, protein is more satiating than carbohydrate. It’s this point that high-protein diet pushers were counting on to help temper intakes of all the meat, eggs, cheese, pork rinds, cream, even alcohol, etc. that they said one could eat and drink as much as they wanted of. They thought that people would not eat excessive amounts of these artery-clogging, high-saturated fat-laden, acidotic foods. Well, of course, as with carbohydrates, people did consume and get used to too-large portions and excessive intake, notwithstanding satiation levels, of protein-rich (which many happen to be fat-rich, too) foods. And then, on top of all that bad news, studies have shown that the ‘miraculous weight losses’, especially in the first week or so, are really the result of the physiologic diuresis that accompanies metabolic processes that occur on high protein diets -- the loss of glycogen stores, the conversion of protein to glucose with gluconeogenesis, the clearance of ketone bodies. So, it’s water loss! Moreover, further studies have not shown that high-protein diets are more successful at helping people lose weight and keep it off! All that pandemonium for nought!
So, in the end, high-protein diets were nothing but a reactive, alternative to the too-high-carbohydrate intakes that were occurring. But, oddly enough, both scenarios were violating the ‘not too much, not too little’ maxim. Did we really think we could scarf down bagels and muffins and the like to the extent we were (and are!) and not gain adipose tissue? Alternatively, did we really believe we could eat unlimited amounts of juicy steaks, bacon, eggs, cheese, pork rinds and the like and not have any untoward effects? Not just pandemonium – delusions! ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’! We fed (sorry L) right into it! The fact was and is – we were, and still are, just eating too much – of everything! The fact is, deep down, we knew and know it. We just don’t want to believe or accept it. Especially, after almost 50 years of this happening, we have, in my opinion, ‘epigenetically’ conditioned our bodies, in some strange way, to crave too much food! It’s become a (patho) physiological phenomenon!