Low-carb/high-protein diets have long been popular for weight loss. The latest trend is the Eco Atkins diet, a high-vegan protein diet. Dietician Kim Hoffmann (of The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services) takes a closer look.
Low-carbohydrate diets have long been advocated by commercial weight loss programmes as they are thought to be advantageous for weight loss. But the traditional low-carbohydrate diets are high in animal proteins and fats and have therefore had a plenty of health concerns surrounding them. The fats from animal products are predominantly saturated, therefore leading to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Large intakes of meat have also been associated with many problems such as coronary heart disease, increased risk of certain cancers and kidney stones.
A vegetarian, and specifically a vegan, version of the high protein diet is much more difficult to attain, but gives the benefits of higher fibre, phytochemicals, and unsaturated fat, and therefore improved cholesterol readings as well as general health.
And thus was born the Eco Atkins diet - a high-vegan protein, high-unsaturated, low-carbohydrate diet. The protein comes predominantly from soy, nuts and grains. Other foods that are included are foods that contain soluble fibre such as oats, barley and fresh fruit and foods that contain unsaturated fats including macadamia nuts, almonds, avocado and olive oil.
I did a literature search of all the studies comparing different diets, and found a handful looking at the vegan high-protein diets. Generally the consensus is that the Eco Atkins versus the original Atkins are very similar from a weight perspective, but from a health perspective the Eco Atkins improves the LDL cholesterol levels significantly more.
Interesting too was that most sites I saw on the internet claimed that the Eco Atkins diet was better at lowering LDL cholesterol levels than the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. I went in search of the study that was quoted and found that though those were Jenkins et al’s (2009) findings, there were some problems with the study diets. Yes they compared high vegan-protein with high-carbohydrate, but they did not compare vegan with vegan. The lesser decrease in the LDL cholesterol reading could very well have been because of animal products (such as low-fat milk and egg white) that were used within the high-carbohydrate group. I have found no studies that compared vegan high-protein to vegan high-carbohydrate. Incidentally the weight loss of the two groups was similar.
Keep the balance
So what do we do with this information? We will never advocate high protein diets as healthy - protein is not the main "format" of energy that the body works best with, and more protein than the body requires for its functions (such as growth and repair, cell structure, immune system and compound carriers) will be converted into glucose, the conversion of which is stressful on the body.
Going vegan or vegetarian is definitely not a wrong move, but also not a necessity for health. It does however need to be well balanced. As long as you are eating predominantly wholegrain carbohydrate products, lots of fruit and veggies, and adding small amounts of unsaturated fat, whether the low fat protein that gets added comes from animal or plant sources won’t make a difference!
More important is that you keep enjoying your food, and that your eating plan fits into your lifestyle, not your lifestyle into an eating plan!
(Written by Kim Hofmann - The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services)
- (Health24, October 2010)