Et tu, Protein?

High-protein diets have been very fashionable lately. Whether it's a specific diet like Atkins, Paleo, and Dukan, or just a push for high protein items, protein is EVERYWHERE. But a recent Huffington Post article highlighted a study published in Cell Metabolism that says high levels of protein can be harmful to your health.

As in, could be worse for you than smoking.



First let's make a note that this came from data already collected by NHANES III, which is a national survey of what Americans eat. This isn't a study with a control, this is a look at life outside of the lab.

The study was looking at the role of protein in longevity of life. The researchers found a correlation between moderate and high protein diets, and death from diabetes-related causes in subjects over 50. They even adjusted for the fact that when people are diagnosed with diabetes, they tend toward high-protein diets.

No correlation was found between moderate or high protein diets and death in general. 

The study also looked to see if the association between protein and mortality was different for different age groups. Low protein diets seemed to be more beneficial in mid-life. But, those benefits lessened as people got older. 

A big point here is that the study found these affects to be true for high ANIMAL protein diets. When plant-derived protein made up more of the protein in the individual's diet, the risk for death decreased.

So what are we really learning here?

No macro nutrient deserves to be put on a pedestal, shunned, or otherwise made extreme.

Research continues to affirm the health benefits of plant-based diets, and this is no exception. Also, the key is always moderation! First there was a big trend in low-fat diets, almost to the exclusion of fat. Then came all of the low-carb diets, causing a lot of cranky and tired individuals. 

Another thing that I would add is that more research is needed to control for the QUALITY of the animal protein. Is it mostly bacon or chicken breast? Is it mostly fried or baked? Is it organic, grass-fed, hormone-free? There are a lot of factors that a study of previously collected data can't take into account.

Until then...balance, my friends, balance!



Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.