Apparently Americans aren’t just consuming huge amounts of sugar, sodium, and carbs — but they’re going overkill on protein, too.
Previous research has pointed to the possibility that meat and cheese is actually just as bad for you as smoking — and now a new study shows that people who eat a lot more protein than they should have an increased likelihood to develop type 2 diabetes. This may be because people are simply consuming more food in general than they should, but either way, it’s a sign that diets rich in protein won’t necessarily prevent you from diseases like obesity or diabetes.
“Several previous studies have found that higher intake of total protein, especially animal protein, are associated with long-term risk of developing diabetes,” Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health told Reuters. “Substantial amounts of animal protein come from red meat and processed meat, which have been consistently associated with increased risk of diabetes.”
In a previous study published in Cell Metabolism, researchers found that people in their fifties who ate a high-protein diet were twice as likely to die of any cause, in comparison to people who don’t eat as much protein.
In the new study, published by the American Diabetes Association, researchers studied data that had been previously recorded, reviewing the eating and physical activity habits of adults in eight European countries over the course of 12 years. They measured height, weight, waist circumference as well as development of diabetes. Among the people examined, 11,000 had developed type 2 diabetes and 15,000 remained diabetes-free.
On average, people ate about 90 grams of protein per day. The researchers divided the participants into five groups based on protein consumption, finding that those who ate the most (111 grams per day) were 17 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least, at 72 grams per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is about 46 grams for women ages 14 and older, and 56 grams for men aged 19 and older. This means that people who are more likely to get diabetes are probably eating about twice as much protein as they should be.
The Protein Package
The researchers concluded that every extra 10 grams of protein was linked to a six percent higher risk of developing diabetes. “More importantly, higher intake of animal protein often comes along with other undesirable nutrients such as saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium,” Hu told Reuters.
Indeed, animal protein — which comes from processed meat, poultry, red meat, fish and dairy, can contain other unhealthy features that should be eaten only in moderation. A steak, for example, is a big source of protein, but it also delivers up to 12 grams of saturated fat, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. A 6-ounce ham steak, meanwhile, is loaded with sodium. So it's about the "protein package," not about how much protein each food item delivers you. Salmon and tofu are rich in protein and low in sodium as well as saturated fat; beans are also high in protein and packed with fiber, and contain no saturated fats; these provide a better "protein package."
Also, before taking out animal proteins from your diets completely, be aware that the study is not completely accurate. Instead of having participants eat different amounts of protein and then testing them, the researchers only compared diets of people who had diabetes compared to those who did not develop it. Also, the increased rates of diabetes among people who consumed more protein may also be a sign that these people are simply eating more in general — protein, sugars, and fats included.
Don’t go crazy on removing animal protein, though. Protein is of course extremely important for our body to function, and animal sources are often the most packed with it. “As a general rule, I would not suggest to eat normal portions of red meat not more than two times per week, poultry and fish three to four times per week, skimmed milk or yogurt maybe not every day,” Paolo Magni of the Institute of Endocrinology at the University of Milan, told Reuters.
“The majority of Americans are eating about twice as much proteins as they should, and it seems that the best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins but especially animal-derived proteins,” Valter Longo, the author of an earlier study about protein and diet, said in a press release. “But don’t get extreme in cutting out protein; you can go from protected to malnourished very quickly.”
Remember, protein can also be found in non-animal-based foods, like legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds — so turn more often to these sources to get your daily dose of 46 to 56 grams of protein.