High protein diets, such as the Atkin’s diet or the Paleo diet, have been popular weight-loss programs in recent years. A high-protein diet has created concern, however, because it is high in meat, animal products, and saturated fat. Numerous studies have shown that a high meat intake is associated with increased risk for heart disease, cancer of the digestive tract, overall mortality, and acceleration of chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.1

A new study decided to look at a high-protein (31 percent of calories), low-carbohydrate diet that used plant proteins instead of animal products to see if it was a healthier approach to weight loss. The high-protein diet was vegetarian. The primary sources of protein came from gluten foods, soy (soy burgers, tofu, and soymilk), nuts, some high-fiber whole grains, fruit, and high-fiber vegetables. Fats in the diet came primarily from nuts, vegetable oils, avocado, and soy products.

The control diet was also vegetarian (ovo-lacto) but higher in carbohydrates (58 percent of calories), lower in protein (16 percent of calories), and moderate in fat (25 percent of calories). It used low-fat or fat-free dairy, cholesterol-free eggs, and more grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Summary Findings

Low-carbohydrate/high-protein vegetarian diet:

  • 9.9 lbs weight loss
  • 20.4 percent change in LDL cholesterol
  • 76 mg/dL change in Triglyceride levels

High-carbohydrate vegetarian diet:

  • 9.5 lbs weight loss
  • 12.3 percent change in LDL cholesterol
  • 40mg/dL change in Triglyceride Levels

Both groups reduced their calorie intake by 40 percent and lost 10 pounds in four weeks. There was no difference in weight loss between the two groups pointing out that calorie intake is more important than protein or carbohydrate intake. Both diets lowered LDL cholesterol levels, but the diet high in plant proteins lowered LDL cholesterol levels the best (20.4 percent compared to 12.3 percent on the high carbohydrate vegetarian diet). Blood pressure levels also were reduced more favorably in the low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet.

What Does This Tell Us?

To lose weight, eat fewer calories. (It’s calories that are most important.)

  1. If you want to follow a low-carbohydrate/high-protein eating plan, be sure most of the protein comes from plant foods (tofu, soymilk, soy burgers, gluten, nuts, and high-fiber whole grains) rather than animal products for best results in lowering LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and coronary risk.
  2. Choose healthy fats (nuts, avocado, and vegetable oils). Eating healthy fats (avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils) are good for the heart as long as you eat them in moderate amounts that allow for good weight control.
  3. Both low-calorie diet plans were good for losing weight. A high-protein/low-carbohydrate vegetarian eating plan showed better LDL cholesterol and triglyceride improvement than the high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet.

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  1. Tuttle K and Milton J. The “Eco-Atkins” Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009; 169(11):1027.
  2. Jenkins D, et al. The effect of a plant based low carbohydrate diet on body weight and blood lipids. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(11):1046-1054.
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