May 4, 2004
The most popular diets today are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. These diets do work. However, the danger of having a high-protein, and low-carb diet is that when the source of the protein is meat, the meat is usually also high in fat and has higher calories per mouthful than a high-carb diet. One of the reasons that a high-protein, low-carb diet works is that the fat in the food slows down digestion quite a bit, so you feel satisfied with less food.
Another reason for the seeming effectiveness is that high-protein consumption tends to cause loss of body water. If you lose 10 pounds on a high-protein diet, two to three of those pounds may be by dehydration. Later your body reabsorbs the water and you regain that portion of your weight, making the diet less effective than it seems.
But this is not the major criticism of a high-protein, high-fat, and low-carb diet. The big danger is that this diet is conducive to muscle loss and degeneration of muscle tone and efficiency. In a well-balanced diet, the carbs in the meal are used for glucose production, leaving the protein available for muscle repair. The net result of a high-protein, low-carb diet is that the muscles break down and are not repaired, with a consequent loss of lean body mass. It is possible to lose as much as one pound of muscle for every pound of fat lost on one of these diets.
Wasting syndrome, also referred to as loss of body mass or lean body mass, is an AIDS-related complication and can be life threatening. If this kind of diet produces muscle loss among non-HIV-positive people, there is all the more reason for HIV-positive people to pay attention to a balanced diet.
While it's important to balance your diet with adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates, you do not have to worry about getting enough fat. It is almost impossible not to get fat in the foods you eat. Even if you decided to eliminate all products that are high in fat, you would still get fat in nuts and other seeds, including wheat germ.
It is important to remember that before trying any new fad diet to talk to your healthcare provider and find out if the diet is right for you before ever beginning.
The bottom line is BALANCE.
Shelley is a treatment educator at Babes Network in Seattle, Washington.