Weight Loss Q&A: Ask the Staff
Monday, May 20, 2013
LifeTime WeightLoss in Corey Grenz, Nutrition, Paul Kriegler, healthy fat, how much protein

Looking for expert advice on your fitness routine or eating plan? Our Flourish Q&A series is at your service. While we encourage members to connect with Life Time trainers and dieticians in the gyms, our corporate staff can be a resource as well. That’s certainly the point of our Flourish publication, and we’re interested in your questions for the newsletter. Every other week, our corporate and field staff will offer up answers to questions you share about your weight loss and health journey. Just include your questions in the comment section of any Q&A post. We hope our series can be one more LTWL resource that helps you maximize your personal success. This week, join Personal Trainer Corey Grenz and Registered Dietician Paul Kriegler as they take up the question of whether we can ever eat too much protein or fat.

Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Protein?

I know I need to increase my protein intake for my nutrition plan, but I admit I’m a little worried. Can you eat too much protein? Is it even dangerous to eat too much protein?

Love the question. In fact, we hear this one a lot from our clients, and it’s important nutrition information for all of us. The fact is, It’s difficult for relatively healthy people to eat too much protein. Unless you have active kidney or liver disease or are consistently eating processed, poor quality or contaminated sources of protein, dietary protein likely won’t cause you harm. The worst impact most people come up against in “safely” over-eating protein is the body’s eventual redirect of the amino acids to sugar glucose production for energy rather than the building and maintenance of lean tissue.

First, “high protein” diets require a large amount of protein. For example, let’s look at an active person who weighs 180 lbs and eats 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (this is considered high protein intake.)  That would equal nearly two pounds of meat and dairy per day (1.75 lbs). Even if we count the small amounts of protein from non-meat sources, such as nuts, legumes, vegetables, or grains, it’s difficult to eat that much. Many gym-goers who rely on the convenience of using protein powders often have a tough time reaching the one gram per pound of body weight threshold. It is possible though.

Perhaps the main reason it’s so difficult to consume large amounts of protein is how our body controls its own consumption. When we consume protein (and/or fat) at meals, a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) is stimulated and sends a powerful signal to the brain saying you are full. When most people consume protein portions much bigger than the typical “palm of their hand” size in one sitting, the brain essentially slows down their eating (or at least it should) by hormonally promoting the sensation of satiety for several hours afterward. It’s much easier to over-consume processed simple carbohydrates.

You may choose to consume well below the “high protein” threshold based on another factor: cost. Quality protein like grass-fed beef, wild-caught seafood, or pasture-raised poultry cost more than conventional animal protein—and cost much more per calorie than nearly all carbohydrate or fat sources. In my experience, most people simply won’t pay enough for their food to over-consume protein.

Finally, let’s look at the assumption about protein and kidney health, which is the most commonly cited concern about the “danger” of higher protein intake. Nutrition expert and author Johnny Bowden has examined the question of whether high protein diets cause kidney disease in his book Living Low Carb: “The oft-repeated medical legend that high-protein diets cause kidney disease came from reversing a medical fact. The medical fact is that reducing protein (up to a point) lessens the decline of renal (kidney) function in people who already have kidney disease. Because restricting protein seems to be a good strategy for those with existing kidney failure, some people drew the illogical conclusion that the reverse must be true – that large amounts of protein lead to kidney failure.” In addition to this illumination of the issue, there’s even evidence that extremely high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein, ketogenic diets can reverse the early stages of kidney disease (in mice).

Dr. Jose Antonio, President of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), presents this challenge for his undergraduate students:  “Anyone who can show me a published study that high-protein diets are dangerous will get an ‘A’ and skip class the rest of the semester.” So far, his students have had to earn their ‘As’ with an entire semester’s effort.

Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Fat?

Although I love the fact that I don’t have to avoid fat in my diet anymore, I have to ask—is it possible to eat too much fat?

This is a good question that requires a bit of depth to answer. Our knee-jerk answer is to say it’s more likely in the U.S. that health-conscious people don’t eat enough fat. Or if they are eating enough, most people are probably eating it from many of the wrong sources—based on decades of biased research against wrongfully accused saturated fats. We want to be clear that too much fat does not automatically punch your ticket for heart disease. In head to head comparisons, research trials show diets with higher fat content (and lower carb content) may actually lower related heart disease risk factors!

If we’re totally honest and thorough, however, we should say it is possible to eat too much fat. Despite considerable, well-controlled research trials on high-fat, ketogenic diets that do not restrict total calories, the caloric density of fat itself can become an issue. Too much fat at some point creates an over-supply of energy that the average exercising adult can’t totally burn off. If you’re consuming too many total calories from fat, weight loss can be difficult (especially if carbohydrate intake is higher than it should be).

However, if an exercising adult ate a more modest amount of carbs (like that supplied from about 7-9 cups of raw, colorful veggies per day plus about a cup or two of fruit) and a moderate amount of healthy fat with each meal (about 2 tablespoons of olive oil or 1/3  to 1/2 of an avocado), he or she may notice a decrease in body fat but not weight (if they’re eating moderate amounts of protein). This, of course, is the direction we’re going for—maintain or build muscle but lose body fat! Hey, we said we’d be thorough….

For you to start adding fat to your meals, you may have to challenge your thinking. For many reasons, fat might not be the “Bad Guy” you may have thought it was all these years. 

First, fat and carbohydrates metabolize differently in the body. Fat may have more calories/gram than carbohydrates or protein (9 grams to 4 grams) but fat doesn’t create an insulin response.  Without going into too much scientific jargon, think of Insulin as a “growth and storage hormone.”  When you eat carbs, your blood sugar goes up and then Insulin rises to store those calories (or grow new places to store them). Ideally, the carbs should be stored in the muscle or liver as a form of glycogen (rather than grow fat cells to store more energy in). Fat doesn’t create an insulin response (but can still be stored as fat).

Second, fats are not created equal. Dietary fats are most commonly categorized as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans-fats. Most people are well aware the last one is the most harmful to our health (trans-fats). However, many people still think that saturated fat is also inherently harmful. In fact, the best types of fat for human energy use (fat burn) are saturated fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fats. (You can read about many benefits of burning fat from Bob Seebohar, Jeff Volek, or Steve Phinney.) Polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) may do more harm than good because the omega-6 fats found in many of these may increase inflammation signals in the body. Not to make matters more confusing, but if you’re including more animal fats in your diet based on this information, do so with scrutiny. Spend the extra money on grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild-caught sources of animal fats; they are higher in omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid, and even vitamins and minerals compared with conventionally raised or farmed animals.

Third, fat consumption (like protein intake) stimulates the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) which helps make your brain think your stomach is full. In our experience, people who adhere to lower carb/higher fat diets on a consistent basis have very few cravings, especially for sugar. Stable appetite and energy levels are a must for people to lose significant body fat, and keep it off. Inconsistently following this pattern has its own set of challenges, not necessarily related to eating “too much fat”.

Without taking a “Switzerland stance,” the simple answers to these questions are yes; it is possible to eat too much of either fat or protein, but it’s not all that likely you will. If you’re to take anything away from this commentary, remember that you shouldn’t be afraid of eating “too much protein” or “too much fat,” especially if you are filling out the bulk of your diet with colorful, fibrous veggies and a little fruit.

Many of us are still trying to find this delicate balance of what to eat, how much, and how to move our bodies in ways that keep us healthier, leaner, and more energetic—without wasting time getting there. If you’re one of those people in limbo, ask a fitness professional about completing your Metabolic Profile Assessment and consulting with a Registered Dietitian or Weight Loss Coach until you find your balance.

Co-written by Paul Kriegler, RD – Corporate Registered Dietician and Corey Grenz – Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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