Can I Eat Only Protein?

Protein Plate Steak Beef

  Last update November 11, 2021, article reviewed & updated multiple times since October 5, 2001.

  What You Need to Know

  • A reader asks “Since some of the protein I eat will convert to carbohydrates, can I eat only protein, if I take a vitamin and mineral pill to provide what I’m not getting in vegetables?”
  • The short answer to the question is yes, you could eat only protein foods, but it is not a good idea.
  • We must all understand that from a survival viewpoint, the inability to lose weight quickly is a good thing.

A Reader Asks: Can I Eat Only Protein?

We’ve been talking about protein and carbohydrates, and most recently about how an average of 58% of consumed protein will convert to carbohydrates in our bodies. I’ve received several e-mails from readers, all of whom asked variations of this question: “Since some of the protein I eat will convert to carbohydrates, can I eat only protein, if I take a vitamin and mineral pill to provide what I’m not getting in vegetables?” Some further discussion of this issue is called for before we move on to dietary fats.

The short answer to the question is yes, you could eat only protein foods, but it is not a good idea.

I can think of three possible reasons why someone might want to eat only protein. There may be others, but these are the ones that come to mind:

  • You don’t like any salad greens or low carbohydrate vegetables.
  • You live in a far northern place like Alaska, and there aren’t very many good vegetables, except during the summer.
  • You think it will make losing weight easier.

Vegetables Provide A Variety Of Things Protein Foods Can’t

While it is true that a person can live without vegetables if their consumed protein amounts are adequate, it is not a good idea. Vegetables provide things that protein foods do not. Among these are the known and identified vitamins and minerals, fiber to help the intestinal motion necessary for the proper digestion of protein foods, and bulk to help keep hunger under control.

Someone could object, “But I can take vitamin/mineral supplements and a fiber product instead!” That’s true, you can (and should) take vitamin and mineral supplements, but you cannot be certain you are getting everything your body needs. Vegetables also provide chemicals that may be important to good health, but that are not currently considered to be essential to human life. These chemicals may not be present in vitamin/mineral supplements, and may, in fact, even be currently unknown or undiscovered. If we eat vegetables, we get the trace substances, whether we know they are there or not.

Nutritional Comparison Of Fresh And Frozen Vegetables

The inability to get fresh vegetables year-round may be an inconvenience, but although fresh vegetables may taste better in some dishes than frozen or canned ones, modern canned and frozen vegetables provide virtually the same nutrients as fresh vegetables.

Some nutritional experts even contend that both canned and frozen vegetables have more nutrients than fresh ones bought at the supermarket, since vegetables that are canned or frozen are processed immediately after picking, while fresh vegetables in the produce sections of supermarkets may be been picked days or even weeks before you buy them.

Will Eating Only Protein Promote Quicker Weight Loss?

Can We Eat Only Protein?
As for the idea that eating only protein will speed the weight loss process, it will not. It may even slow down weight loss, because you will be more likely to eat too much protein, thereby absorbing more protein-converted carbohydrates.

Why We Store Excess Food As Fat: It’s A Matter Of Survival

Let’s go way back to some basics. Our bodies are essentially the same as those of our ancestors. Then as now, food eaten in excess of that needed for immediate energy, growth, or tissue repair was stored for use later. Those members of our ancestors’ groups whose bodies were most efficient at storing the excess tended to live the longest and reproduce most successfully.

This means that those who were best able to store the excess are our actual ancestors, not the ones who died early because their bodies ran out of fuel during hard times. The people we came from were especially good at making and storing body fat for future use. Whenever there was a surplus of food, when summer weather provided fruits, when particularly large game was killed, our ancestors’ bodies stored the extra for the lean days of winter.

In modern society, the problem for most of us has been too much food – all the time. Our bodies have been tricked into using their storage mode all the time. In the ‘old days,’ when winter came, abundance subsided and our ancestors needed the fat that they had stored throughout the summer months. Abundance does not subside for us, and we don’t have any mechanisms for shutting down the storage process.

The process of storing the extra food has historically been a fabulous thing that has enabled humankind to survive all these thousands of years. The fact that many of us have stored too much during our lives, and would now like to dispose of some it, doesn’t change anything. The fact that many of us want to “tweak” the weight loss process by one or another product we’ve heard about on TV, doesn’t change anything. Weight loss is only easy for most of us if, like the people in ancient times, we go hungry for extended periods of time and live off a combination of meager food supplies and our own body fat until the next opportunity to consume a big meal shows up in a few months.

But we really don’t want to eat only in the spring and summer, while going without adequate amounts of food for most of the fall and winter. That’s why we go on diets that allow us to eat, not only every day, but several times a day. We go on a diet, and then we complain that we don’t lose weight fast enough, as if going on the diet changed the rules under which our metabolism works.

Losing Weight Slowly Is A Good Thing!

We must all understand that from a survival viewpoint, the inability to lose weight quickly is a good thing. The fact that we don’t like it is totally beside the point. In order to actually succeed in reducing our weight, we need to play tricks on ourselves. The body wants to hold onto what it has, and if we eat too little, it will hold the weight until there is no other source of energy.

Related: Losing Inches But Not Weight Is Still Fat Loss
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But no one wants to be hungry. So we eat, but we try to eat less than the body needs, hoping it will take some energy from our excess pounds. For some people, this is very easy. And some never put on excess weight no matter how much they eat. But the likelihood is that members of these two groups would not be among the survivors of a serious famine.

The Most Intelligent Approach To Weight Loss

The smartest approach for weight loss and weight control is to avoid all high carbohydrate foods completely, eat low carbohydrate vegetables, eat protein foods in the amounts that provide enough protein for your needs, and to eat good fats and oils in moderate amounts.

Join me next time and we’ll start our discussion of dietary fats.

The Science of Low-Carb & Keto Diets
    The Science of Low-Carb & Keto Diets

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  • This article is number 11 of 24 articles describing The Science of Low-Carb & Keto Diets. Visit this link or click the above image for all of the articles in the series.
Article History

  • Last Update November 10, 2021
  • Updated March 18, 2018
  • Updated July 24, 2010
  • Updated September 20, 2003
  • Original Article October 5, 2001
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About Dr. Beth Gruber
Dr. Gruber is a graduate of the Southern California University of Health Sciences and has been in private chiropractic practice in Long Beach, California since 1964. She also received both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree from California State University at Long Beach. She has written on health-related subjects for over 30 years, for several different publications. She lives in Southern California with her husband of 33 years. Both she and her husband follow and live the low-carb lifestyle full time.

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  1. moderate, but only adequate, protein and high, preferably & mostly coconut, fat allows adequate vegetable intake. very lowcarb still but with more variety and bulk to your diet.
    Go Keto!

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