Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Study warns
of high-protein
diet dangers

An isle doctor says lifestyle
changes more effective than
quick weight loss diets

By Helen Altonn

High-protein diets may do more harm than good, the American Heart Association says.

Such diets have not proved effective in reducing weight long term, the Heart Association's Nutrition Committee reported in yesterday's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Moreover, the diets pose potential health threats over a long period because they restrict vegetables, fruit and whole grains, which all are important sources of essential vitamins and minerals, the committee said.

The advisory specifically analyzed claims of five popular "quick weight loss" diets -- Atkins, Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters and Stillman -- and pointed out some have high fat content.

There is no scientific evidence to support claims that high-protein diets enable people to maintain their initial weight loss, said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver, immediate past chairman of the Heart Association Nutrition Committee and co-author of the advisory.

"In general, quick weight-loss diets don't work for most people," he said.

Studies have shown, however, that "eating large amounts of high-fat animal foods over a sustained period increases the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and various types of cancer," Eckel warned.

Dr. Stephen Bradley, a Heart Association of Hawaii board member who works in family and preventative medicine at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, said Americans "tend, in everything, to look for a quick fix if possible." But there is no magic solution for obesity, he said.

"I don't do diets. I don't like diets. It all boils down to lifestyle," said Bradley, who heads the Waianae Integrative Health Center, which has a weight management program.

People can lose weight by reducing calories on almost any diet -- grapefruit, cabbage soup, or whatever -- but it is only temporary, Bradley said.

"What's the use of that if you have no long-term method of keeping weight to normal limits?" he asked.

The American Heart Association, which examined hundreds of scientific studies to form healthy dietary guidelines for health professionals, basically advises to lose weight: "Eat less and move more."

Even small weight increases are negative, and the population is getting heavier and heavier, Bradley said, pointing out there is a national epidemic with 61 percent of Americans overweight.

The problem is not one of aesthetics, he added, but the many negative things that accompany too much weight -- heart problems, cancer, kidney and gall bladder diseases, diabetes and "others too numerous to mention."

In Waianae the health center sees mostly native Hawaiians who are acutely overweight because of genetic susceptibility and a nontraditional diet and lifestyle, Bradley said.

"The problem is similar to the Pima Indians on the mainland," he said. "In a traditional setting they were very healthy people. In a Western setting they have some of the highest rates of obesity and cancer of anyone in the U.S., and a shortened life span."

Since environment cannot be changed easily, the Waianae health center is trying to help people change habits and make healthier choices, Bradley said.

A person's likes, dislikes, genetics, medical background and age should be assessed to form a plan for lifestyle change, he said. For long-term success, medical nutrition, fitness, exercise and behavioral modification should be considered.

A certified chef trained in cooking at the California Culinary Academy as well as a doctor, Bradley's sidelight is showing people what they can do with food choices and how to order nutritionally from menus.

"A lot of things are wrapped up in food -- comfort, support, pleasure, happiness, even self-medication," he said. "Those habits are very deeply ingrained. It's tough to change them. We have to be very supportive and plan."

For free weight management information, recipes and other resources to eat healthy and help lose weight, call toll-free 800-AHA-USA-1 (800-242-8721) or visit

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