Protein and carbs - get the balance right

While some believe high-protein diets aid weight loss, cutting out carbs can be detrimental to health. Nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens explains why balance and moderation is key...

Protein and carbs - get the balance right

Various high-protein diets claim that cutting carbs in favour of protein can help you to lose weight faster while still feeling satisfied. However, losing carbs from your diet completely can be detrimental to health.

It's true that protein burns comparatively more calories than other energy sources when it's digested. And we all need some protein (whether from meat, fish, dairy or grains) for strong muscles and bones, hormonal health and immunity.

However, carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy, and our brains, in particular, need carbs to maintain alertness and concentration.

As with all diets, there are downsides. High-protein diets put an extra load on the kidneys and may cause calcium to be lost from your bones. Too much Prawn & tomato stew with gremolata topping high-fat protein may raise your cholesterol levels. A high-carb diet, meanwhile, can disrupt blood sugar levels, increase the risk of diabetes and lead to energy fluctuations and mood swings.

Moderation is the key. Protein and carbs both play a part in helping you shed extra pounds. Choose lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish and low-fat dairy - about the size of a deck of cards - and keep carb servings to the size of your clenched fist. Choose complex carbs, such as wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice, and include plenty of veg and fruit in your diet.

So when are the best times to eat carbs and protein, what should your portion size be and what are your guideline daily amounts? Kerry offers further guidance in her features; a balanced diet for men and a balanced diet for women.

Well-balanced recipe suggestionsEasy sweet & sour chicken

Lemon-scented fish & chips
Spring chicken in a pot
Lemony crumbed turkey with broccoli-bean smash
Grilled fish with new potato, red pepper & olive salad
Easy sweet & sour chicken
Leftover turkey casserole
Prawn & tomato stew with gremolata topping
Sweet potato & chicken curry
Perky turkey soup


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Comments, questions and tips

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24th Feb, 2017
Completely agree with previous posters. Even the NHS is considering reworking the eat well plate or as I prefer to call it, the eat badly plate. But am also disappointed that Good food have jumped on the band wagon and found a nutritionist that doesn't quote any studies and just asks us to believe the same old twaddle. The same tale that seen the obesity rates sky rocket in the last 30 years.
16th Sep, 2015
Since the year 2002, over 20 HUMAN studies have been conducted on low-carb diets. In almost EVERY SINGLE ONE of those studies, low-carb diets come out ahead of the diets they are compared to. Not only does low-carb cause more weight loss, it also leads to major improvements in most risk factors… including cholesterol. HOWEVER, it must be stated that some cholesterol is GOOD for you, not explained to you by most NHS doctors who will just make you panic when your blood results show any sign of cholesterol. (Something you can't function without may I add). "Health implications" by cutting carbohydrates is absolute nonsense! Studies have shown that their has been major improvements with people with Type 2 diabetes (this is just one added health benefit). By cutting out the carbs and sugar you remove the need for all of that insulin. Both blood sugars and insulin go way down. Studies have shown that over 90% of people managed to reduce or eliminate their glucose-lowering medication within 6 months. That is life changing for people! I agree everything in moderation, vegetables contain carbs and no one is saying cut them out! Your body doesn't need carbs for energy, this is what the world has been told for so long. Your body is a clever thing and will find its energy source from somewhere else (i.e. healthy fats). It is about time the food pyramid for this country is changed! Australia have realised and changed theirs, it's about time we did the same. We are teaching our children the wrong things because we know no better and that's why we have an obesity epidemic!
21st Apr, 2015
This dietry thinking is becoming outmoded as more specialists realise that carbohydrates are toxic. The body needs fat, yes fat, and lots of it to function effectively. The explosion in obesity and diabetes has been exacerbated by the focus on the outdated and inaccurate low-fat, high fibre diet. You reduce blood sugar by eating high fat protein and little or no carbs. You lose weight by doing the same. Fatty protein has no effect on Cholesterol and can be beneficial by raising HDL. All that carbohydrates do is pump excessive sugar into the blood stream causing the Pancreas to work overtime producing the fat hormone Insulin. This mean all the excessive sugar is converted to fat by insulin - carbohydrates make you fat, sluggish, fatigued and hungry. so you eat more carbs etc...eventually the pancreas can't cope and you become insulin resistant and diabetic; like me! The truth is out there you just need to look and read. Oh, by the way, if you're worried about constipation don't be - high fibre diets don't help it but low fibre diets do.
8th Jan, 2015
Sorry but this is just the same old dogma that's been spouted for the last 40 years that has got us into the obesity epidemic we are seeing now. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate for the human body, and organs that can only function with glucose (parts of the brain and eyes) can easily and plentifully be supplied by the process of gluconeogenesis - whereby the body produces glucose from the protein it ingests. And you can eat too much protein too - but it won't harm your kidneys unless you have kidney disease!! Excess protein will be turned into to glucose too and cause insulin spikes - insulin is THE fat causing hormone. The only food that causes virtually nil impact on the endocrine system is fat - and you need to eat healthy saturated fats - NOT omega 6 rich rancid so-called "vegetable" oils!! (made from seeds, grain or beans - see Avoid sugar and starches to avoid insulin spikes and insulin resistance - the downward spiral to diabetes, heart disease and alzheimers - also don't forget glucose is the primary fuel for cancer! As for cholesterol and statins - don't even get me started on that lie - £££$$$$€€€!!
Less Carbfibre
3rd Oct, 2017
I know this thread is a little old but was wondering if anyone could offer some advice please. I have just read Fibre Menace and I'm drawn to the ideas there as it does turn the recommendations for high fibre and lots of carbs completely on it's head. I've just cut down on fibre, resistant starches, fermentable foods and carbs and so far my IBS and digestion have improved dramatically. However I think I am suffering withdrawal symptoms from carbs as I had cut carbs down to about 80gm which is probably about a 50% reduction. I have increased them now to try to transition more gently as I am starting to feel quite listless and brain fog.
goodfoodteam's picture
6th Oct, 2017
Thanks for your question. Unfortunately we can't give individual nutritional advice. We do try to cover new diets so may well feature more on this subject in future. We would always recommend seeing a nutritionist, dietician or other health professional for specific advice. Best of luck.
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