Protein Diets and Women – What is the real story?
Protein Diets and Women, I know. Diets. Who needs them? Who wants them! We seem always to be watching our weight, watching our diet, and worrying about exercising. If we don’t do the watching, there is always someone who is willing to do the watching for us! Then, there is the “too much” worrying. Too much exercise, too much fat, too much processed foods, and too many carbohydrates. There’s even a recent report to add to the confusion that certain fat from the Mediterranean diet may be a good thing (Estruch et al., 2013)! However, the one diet that seems to be unique in helping women for numerous reasons is the high-protein diet. With some understanding of its few limitations, a diet high in protein can bring much-needed benefit to a woman’s physiology.
The “Atkins” or ketogenic type diet is considered to be the classic high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and is useful for many things, especially fighting negative cardiovascular outcomes (Lagiou et al., 2012). These include worrisome things formerly ignored in a female. Heart attacks. Coronary heart disease or clogged arteries. Congestive heart failure or leaky valves. What has made these a largely ignored group of diseases in women is mostly cultural. But, it is also very difficult to detect looming cardiovascular disease in a woman. So, prevention is key! The high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is also helpful for reducing or eliminating headaches, and sometimes migraines (Neal et al., 2008; Livingston & Pauli, 1975; Sirven et al., 1999; Epilepsy and the Ketogenic Diet, 2014).
Consider what protein is. Protein is the assembled compounds of amino acids. These are broken down when you eat from the protein of either vegetable or animal sources to the amino acid building blocks. Once broken down into these building blocks amino acids can be assembled into whatever the woman needs for protein. Since a woman is, usually, living a life of phases from month-to-month, these cycles require constant protein for rebuilding. Illness, whether detected or undetected depends upon protein structures to create the immune system. We combat cancer growths on average 21 times per year. Our bodies manufacture from amino acids special proteins to keep these cancers from overgrowth and cause them to fail. When we “get” cancer, it is essentially a failure of this constant, monitoring system. Most viruses are similarly deflected from getting us “sick.” Then, when we do get acutely sick the need for amino acid building blocks from protein is that much more important.
Exercise, itself, is a protein consuming process as muscle tissue is broken down to build body “strength.” Protein enhances the rebuilding process. The source of protein is not as important, since animal and vegetable protein yield identical amino acids. It’s the contaminants in proteins that render them harmful. Neither is without fault. Animal proteins may have fats, nitrites from processing, and preservatives. Still vegetable proteins from nuts, peas, quinoa, garbanzo beans, soybean products such as tofu, seeds such as sunflower or sesame or poppy, spinach, and seitan are all subject to processing and preservatives if not organically sourced. Seitan creates an allergic reaction for those who cannot eat wheat gluten. Often, a good wash and rinse is enough to remove most of the vegetable coatings.
Now, consider the benefit of the high-protein diet. If you think about the sources of protein, they are also the very sources in the diet where you get all your vitamins and minerals! When compared to a high-carbohydrate diet, most of food is converted to useable energy and building material. Less is needed in the diet since more energy is available in a high-protein diet. So, appetite is satisfied early. Weight is maintained easier. Obesity problems are reduced. High-carbohydrate diets are notorious for worsening the cravings for more food. Remember that last chocolate bar? Or, was it two? Or…
There are some concerns for a high-protein diet. When protein is broken down, mostly by the muscle tissues but also by other sources such as immune system products, it must leave through the kidneys. This means your urine system must work well. So, those women who have diabetes, exercise to excess or have kidney function concerns must monitor their “kidney function” through breakdown products detected in the urine and blood. In addition to the demand on the kidneys, unmonitored kidney function can result in altered calcium processing in bones (Eisenstein, Roberts, Dallal, & Saltzman, 2002). Still, if a woman is attentive in monitoring these levels when facing these conditions, a high-protein diet is highly rewarding.
How do protein and the ketogenic diet work? The body attempts to break everything eaten down to its most basic building blocks. Before, we stated protein becomes amino acids. However, the body also needs glucose. It’s the only food the brain eats and is the basic energy source for most activities that are not building things like protein. That’s why you get such a ravenous appetite in the presence of a high carbohydrate diet… like chocolate and bread! But, with a high protein diet there is no glucose! So, the body must convert amino acids that are not dedicated to building protein to glucose. This stops the hunger sensation. This starts burning existing energy that is stored such as body fat. You end up with less appetite, less body fat, and more lean muscle and protein development when and where you need it! Ketogenesis is creating glucose from things that are normally not glucose!
With a high-protein diet, you feed the process exactly what is needed while still providing the body important building materials. Is it for you? That’s for you to decide. Considering the option of a high-carbohydrate diet, which is currently the standard, it only adds to obesity and unsatisfied hunger. Protein is what your body needs. Protein is what your body uses. Protein is, with certain limitations including a balanced exercise plan, a very efficient diet.
Eisenstein, J., Roberts, S. B., Dallal, G., & Saltzman, E. (2002). High‐protein weight‐loss diets: are they safe and do they work? A review of the experimental and epidemiologic data. Nutrition reviews, 60(7), 189-200. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/Class/IPHY3700_Greene/pdfs/atkins/eisenstein.pdf
Epilepsy and the Ketogenic Diet. (2014). Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/guide/ketogenic-diet
Estruch, R. et al. (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med, 368, 1279-1290. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200303
Lagiou P., et al. (2012). Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: Prospective cohort study. BMJ 26(344),e4026. doi:10.1136/bmj.e4026
Livingston, S., & Pauli, L. L. (1975). Ketogenic diet and epilepsy. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 17(6), 818-819.
Neal, E. G., Chaffe, H., Schwartz, R. H., Lawson, M. S., Edwards, N., Fitzsimmons, G., … & Cross, J. H. (2008). The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Neurology, 7(6), 500-506. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://www.gutbrainaxis.org/pdf/cross%20paper%20KD%20vs%20AEDs.pdf
Sirven, J., Whedon, B., Caplan, D., Liporace, J., Glosser, D., O’Dwyer, J., & Sperling, M. R. (1999). The ketogenic diet for intractable epilepsy in adults: preliminary results. Epilepsia, 40(12), 1721-1726. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1528-1157.1999.tb01589.x/full Protein Diets and Women