British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Section Two: Specific metabolic roles of amino acids, and the paradigm of optimal, as opposed to minimal dietary protein and amino acid requirements for performance, long-term health and optimal organ function

The role of high-protein diets in body weight management and health

Lisa Te Morengaa1a3 c1 and Jim Manna1a2a3

a1 Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

a2 Edgar National Centre for Diabetes Research, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

a3 Riddet Insititute, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand


Studies examining the health benefits of high-protein diets typical of most affluent and many developing countries are not consistent. Prospective epidemiological studies relating dietary protein to clinical and metabolic endpoints suggest increased weight gain and increased risk of diabetes amongst those with a high protein intake and an increased risk of cancer with high intakes of red meat, but lower blood pressure and possibly a reduced risk of heart disease with higher protein intakes. The potential for high-protein diets to confer greater benefit than other diets has been examined using ad libitum and energy restricted diets. Of greatest interest have been the comparisons between high-protein and high-carbohydrate diets. Many trials have reported greater weight loss especially in the context of ad libitum diets over the short-to medium-term, sparing of lean body mass, lowering of triglyceride levels, improved HDL: total cholesterol ratio and improved glycaemic control. Limited data regarding insulin sensitivity are less consistent. A major difficulty in interpreting the results of these studies is that carbohydrate quality has not been taken into account. Furthermore, longer term comparisons of weight reducing diets differing in macronutrient composition have reported similar outcomes, suggesting that compliance is a more important consideration. Nevertheless dietary patterns with high-protein intakes are appropriate for weight reduction and weight maintenance and may be useful for those who have high triglyceride levels and other features of the metabolic syndrome.

(Received August 10 2011)

(Accepted October 06 2011)

Key Words:

  • Body weight management;
  • Dietary protein;
  • Obesity;
  • Metabolic syndrome


c1 Corresponding author: Lisa Te Morenga, fax +64-3-479 7958, email