In the early 2000s, there was a huge resurgence of interest in the low-carb, high protein diet.
You could barely turn a corner without running into some kind of low-carb dessert or high protein snack.
Things have certainly calmed down a bit since then, but high protein diets still have lots of benefits to those who follow them carefully.
The problem, however, is exactly that: not everyone is following them carefully. Here’s a hint – all those packaged goods which swear to be high protein might also be high sugar, high preservatives, and high calorie.
So if you’re struggling with your high protein diet, or not getting the results you hoped to see, let’s take a step back and examine what’s happening here.
Not All Proteins Are Created Equal
We live in a society which demands a lot of our time. Thanks to smartphones that keep us all in constant communication, there’s hardly ever a reason to stop working.
This means busier people with less time to focus on what they’re eating.
Packaged and processed foods can quickly sneak into a high protein diet - and it’s easy to see why.
Chowing down on some deli meat or grabbing a protein bar is so much easier than carefully selecting lean cuts of meat, and baking or grilling them.
This is where keeping a food diary can be especially helpful.
Sometimes people don't realize the amount of processed food they're eating in a day, but seeing it all written out can help address the problem.
Ideally, you should be reaching for lean cuts of beef, chicken, turkey, fish, or eggs as your main sources of protein, and you should be preparing these foods yourself as often as possible.
If this seems overwhelming, try a few tricks like hard boiling several eggs at once so that you can eat them throughout the week, or cooking double portions so that you can enjoy the leftovers the next couple of days.
Switching to a higher percentage of whole foods will help jumpstart your progress.
You May Be Confusing Fats and Proteins
Remember we talked about the low-carb craze earlier? That led to a lot of confusion out there about what exactly is meant by "protein."
Many foods like nuts (including nut butters), cheese, butter, heavy cream, etc. are correctly classified as "low-carb," but that doesn't mean they are high in protein.
In fact, each of those foods listed above is mostly fat. Now, dietary fat is extremely important in your diet, and healthy fats play a huge role in your overall wellness.
The problem is that when people confuse high-fat foods for high-protein foods, they're setting themselves up with a poor calorie to protein ratio.
Here's a little nutritional math for you: a 3 ounce serving of cream cheese clocks in at a little over 290 calories. You could eat more than 8 ounces of chicken breast (two servings!) and still come in under 290 calories.
People who mistake high-fat foods for high-protein foods tend not to lose weight, nor see the quick muscle recovery they may be aiming for.
Again, check your food diary, examine the foods you're eating, and determine if you've been substituting high-fat foods for high-protein foods.
You're Not Eating Enough Vegetables
Vegetables really are amazing foods, and we could probably all stand to up our veggie intake on a daily basis.
However, this is especially important for people on a high protein diet.
Two words: digestive health.
When your main source of food becomes lean protein, your digestive system – how shall we put this? – slows to a crawl unless you do something to correct it.
The easiest and healthiest way to balance out your diet is to eat plenty of vegetables – at least five servings a day (and up to 9 servings to really keep things moving!).
Vegetables provide three very important aspects of overall gut health: pH balance, hydration, and fiber.
Each of these are important to keep your system regular and to prevent unpleasant side effects like constipation, bloating, cramps, and inflammation.
Of course, when you feel this way, exercise also becomes less appealing and more of a chore.
An unhealthy digestive system can lead to a runaway train effect where you begin retaining weight and losing muscle mass, when you're going for the exact opposite result.
When some people first begin their high protein diet, they're so excited about the juicy steaks and turkey legs that they fill up too quickly on meat and don't get an adequate amount of vegetables in their day.
This tends to lead to problems very quickly.
When your digestive system is working properly, you will more easily lose weight, feel energized, and have fewer aches and pains.
What to Do Now?
If you feel ready to tackle your diet, then here are the big things to start doing now:
1) Focus on getting high-quality protein and avoid processed foods.
2) Track your food to make sure you have the right ratio of protein, carbs, and fat.
3) Get 5-9 servings of veggies per day to keep your digestive system working!
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- A simple meal plan to help you decrease inflammation
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