Protein Deficiency – Are You Getting Enough Protein?

Many People on LCHF Are Not Eating Enough Meat
Are You Getting Enough Protein in Your Low-Carb Meals?

Over the years, Nutritional Ketosis has been greatly misunderstood, especially in terms of protein and dietary fat intake.

People are confused about how much protein they actually need to eat. Those drastically cutting down on protein are showing serious signs of protein deficiency.

Sounds crazy for those on a carbohydrate restricted eating plan to be deficient in protein, but most people who attempt a LCHF way of life have gotten their information through word of mouth.

Stalled partway to goal weight, or just beginning their low-carb journey, they grab onto the false idea that lowering their protein intake is a healthier way to eat than Atkins.

No matter which low-carb diet you're following, protein isn't optional like carbs are. Protein is an essential macronutrient that breaks down into amino acids and is used by the body to create:
  • hormones
  • enzymes
  • antibodies
Amino acids are also used to repair and rebuild protein structures throughout the body. Hair, fingernails, skin, and organs are all created from protein. Even the lining of your gut is totally dependent on protein for food.

If you don't eat enough high-quality protein, you can trigger cravings for carbohydrates, or suffer with anxiety, headaches, and water retention. While eating more than you need can be wasteful, not eating enough protein can be fatal.

How Much Protein Do You Need to avoid Protein Deficiency?

Some of the numbers being tossed around in 2012 were as low as .6 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass, but that was the bare minimum a sedentary person needed to keep up with muscle maintenance and repair.

This low figure didn't cover the amount of protein needed for gluconeogenesis. The brain, red blood cells, and kidney needs a certain amount of glucose to function properly.

Plus, the .6 grams also didn't include the amount of protein needed to repair damage to your muscles during heavy exercise.

This was just the bare minimum a person who was eating a moderate-carb diet needed if they were sitting at a desk or in front of the computer all day.

Optimal amounts of protein are much harder to pin down. While today, the recommended daily amount (RDA) for those eating carbs is a mere .8 grams per kilogram of body weight, Harvard University is quick to point out that this tiny amount is only what you need to keep from getting sick.

If you’re:
  • chasing after kids
  • running kids to activities
  • lifting weights
  • participating in aerobics or cardio
  • have a job where you’re on your feet all day
And trying to eat a low-carb diet, the body needs at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (and sometimes more) if you're severely restricting carbs.

The fewer carbs you eat, the more protein you need to keep your body from losing muscle and going into protein deficiency.

When the body is deficient in protein, it reacts by going into starvation mode and shutting down body systems not immediately necessary for survival. This is especially true if you’re following a low-carb diet because the brain cannot survive without a certain amount of glucose every day.

While the body can make that needed glucose from amino acids, if it can’t get those amino acids from dietary protein, it will turn to its protein stores – your muscles and body organs.

Starvation doesn’t just occur when you don’t eat enough calories. Starvation mode also happens if you don’t eat enough protein.

Carbohydrate Cravings are a Sign of Protein Deficiency

The typical low-carb dieter tends to blame carbohydrates for their cravings, but cravings for:
  • sugar
  • caffeine
  • chips
  • chocolate
  • candy
  • pastries
  • cakes
  • cookies
are a sign of protein deficiency. Protein releases satiety hormones that other nutrients do not.

Even fat carries less immediate satiety than protein.

Dietary fats can have satiety value over the long term, which is why many low-carb dieters believe fat is more satisfying than protein foods, but that isn’t true for everyone.

If you don’t absorb dietary fats properly, eating fats instead of protein will make you hungrier, not less.

Additional Symptoms of Protein Deficiency

Protein deficiency produces a wide variety of signs and symptoms with hair typically being the first place that most nutritional deficiencies surface.

Despite what most people believe, your hair is not dead. Hair roots need constant nourishment. Since hair is made from protein, when you don’t get enough, your:
  • iron levels drop
  • ends split
  • hair color begins to fade
If protein deficiency continues, your hair becomes brittle and starts falling out.  

Muscle wasting is also common when low in protein. When muscles can’t repair themselves, they become weaker and their appearance and size diminishes. You may think you’re losing fat as the inches decrease, but you’re actually losing muscle.

You also lose strength, and can even experience pain in your:
  • neck
  • muscles
  • and joints
due to the tightness and stiffness that results as the body uses its protein stores. Additional problems include:
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • nausea
  • fainting
  • headaches
  • diarrhea
  • fatty liver
  • a full, moon-shaped face
  • sleep issues or insomnia
  • exhaustion, lethargy, or less energy than you had before
  • wanting to take naps when you didn’t before
  • apathy (a general lack of motivation to do anything)
  • the body takes longer to heal
  • nails become brittle and break easily
  • ridges in fingernails and toenails
  • edema (water retention and swelling, particularly in legs/abdomen)
  • skin rashes, dry skin, or scaly skin
  • hormone issues
  • unstable blood sugar
  • bacterial infections
  • cataracts
  • heart problems
In addition:
  • bones
  • organs
  • muscles
  • lung function
  • immune system reaction
  • and red blood cells
all require an adequate protein intake. In fact, protein is essential to almost every chemical reaction your body has.

If protein deficiency continues for more than a few days:
  • organs begin to malfunction
  • cholesterol levels rise
  • your white blood cell count suffers
Making infections and sickness more likely.

Dr. Atkins and Protein Nutrition

Lean Beef Steak on a Bed of Spinach
Dr. Atkins Didn't Limit Protein Foods
Nor Did He Eat Fatty Meat

A high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet has been accepted as the holy grail within the low-carb community for several years now – even though Dr. Atkins’ take on protein and fats was different.

Dietary fat has been idolized as some kind of miracle that will help you reach your weight-loss goals. No matter what ails you, the typical advice is to eat more fat.

While that might be true for someone who has extreme metabolic resistance to weight loss, and over-secretes insulin after meals, that isn’t true for the average dieter.

“The rest of the diet should consist of those combinations of protein and fat which occur together in nature and which traditionally constitute our main courses.” (Dr. Atkins Nutrition Breakthrough: How to Treat Your Medical Condition Without Drugs, pg. 35)

The whole idea of the Atkins diet has always been to correct the “dysnutrition caused by our twentieth-century diet.”

The purpose is to educate the overweight and obese about personal tolerance. However, Dr. Atkins did tell his readers not to fear fat. He told you to eat it liberally and design luxurious menus, so you'll be satisfied and not stray back into carbohydrate territory.


But what did the low-carb community DO with that little tidbit?

They applied their own definition as to what liberal and luxurious meant and began preaching the high-fat religion.

What Dr. Atkins considered to be not fearing fat and what low carbers call not fearing fat isn’t the same thing.

“One of the biggest reasons this diet works so successfully is because you eat protein and fat. And you eat them in just about the sixty to forty proportions in which they usually occur together in nature: in a reasonably lean cut of beef for example.” (Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, pg. 132)

The Bottom Line on Protein and Fats

The low-carb community has traveled away from the principles of the original Atkins Diet, where fat was eaten in reasonable quantities, mostly in the same proportion as it’s found in nature.

Today, people do a higher-calorie Fat Fast and call it the Atkins’ Diet.

Dr. Atkins believed that 58 percent of the protein you eat is converted into glucose. He saw that as a good thing. He saw that as an advantage for the average dieter because of protein’s ability to keep you from being hungry.

If you come to the low-carb table from a low-fat, high-carb diet, you’re going to have a very different perspective about what constitutes luxurious eating and what’s gluttony.

You’re going to have a different idea about what not fearing fat means.

The truth about protein:

It all comes down to the degree of insulin resistance you have because the Atkins Diet has never been a standard, across-the-board diet. It’s always been about finding your own personal tolerance for carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

Nutritional Ketosis holds a similar viewpoint.

There is not just one single Nutritional Ketosis diet. There are guidelines and there are principles, but there is not one single ideology that everyone has to adhere to.

If you’re extremely resistant to weight loss and it’s preventing you from reaching your goals, then a normal protein intake as found in nature might be too high because protein consumption causes an insulin spike the same as carbs. That’s how the amino acids get into your body’s cells.

In that rare case of extreme hyperinsulinemia that doesn't respond to a typical low-carb diet, a Fat Fast may be appropriate to help you get into ketosis, but Dr. Atkins has always warned that a Fat Fast is dangerous for those who are not severely insulin resistant.