High-Protein, Low-Carb Diets Explained

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 06, 2023
2 min read

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, like The Atkins Diet, have been widely promoted as effective weight loss plans. These programs generally recommend that dieters get 30% to 50% of their total calories from protein.

By comparison, the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Cancer Society all recommend a diet in which a smaller percentage of calories come from protein.

The American Heart Association recommends getting 10% - 35% of your daily calories from protein. This is about 46 grams of protein for adult women and 56 grams for adult men.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. Without enough carbs for energy, the body breaks down fat into ketones. The ketones then become the primary source of fuel for the body. When ketones become the primary source of fuel, this puts your body in a state called ketosis.

When your fat stores become a primary energy source, you may lose weight.

Some experts have raised concern about high-protein, low-carb diets.

  • High cholesterol.Some protein sources -- like fatty cuts of meat, whole dairy products, and other high-fat foods -- can raise cholesterol, increasing your chance of heart disease. However, studies showed that people on the Atkins diet for up to 2 years actually had decreased “bad” cholesterol levels.
  • Kidney problems. If you have any kidney problems, eating too much protein puts added strain on your kidneys. This could worsen kidney function.
  • Osteoporosis and kidney stones. When you're on a high-protein diet, you may urinate more calcium than normal. There are conflicting reports, but some experts think this could make osteoporosis and kidney stones more likely.

If you're considering a high-protein diet, check with your doctor or a nutritionist to see if it's OK for you. They can help you come up with a plan that will make sure you're getting enough fruits and vegetables, and that you're getting lean protein foods.

Remember, weight loss that lasts is usually based on changes you can live with for a long time, not a temporary diet.