Protein is the latest macronutrient to receive conflicting reviews. First it was fat (1980s). Then it was carbs for the next two decades. Now, it seems as though protein is getting the stiff end of the stick. Some so-called experts are now recommending lower levels of protein consumption.
Where is this mistrust of protein coming from? Much of it seems tied to animal and population studies, which do not prove causation—only association.
An example of what can get one’s attention is a study report titled something like, “Animal studies show high protein diets cause cancer.” The reports omit conclusions from other reports that low protein intake is tied to higher risk of cancer.
The reports don’t distinguish between types of protein, nor point out that in human studies, when fat or carbs are replaced with protein, that people’s health usually improves.
We really can’t draw definitive conclusions from rodent studies, as their metabolisms just aren’t similar enough to that of humans.
Secondly, it’s precarious to try to make solid conclusions off of population (epidemiological) studies. Many variables can exist in a “population study” that can skewer results, such as types of protein and lifestyle habits of study subjects.
The China Study concludes that protein may increase risk of cancer. The conclusions are based on a rat study and on a population study. The rats were first poisoned with aflatoxin before given either a high protein diet or a low one.
Cancers were increased in the high protein rats. This proves little because the same study was not done using a high/low carb or high/low fat diet. It’s also possible that the protein “fed” the cancer, rather than caused it.
The population study reported that rates of some cancers were higher in the Chinese who had higher protein intake. However, the investigation did not adjust for sources of protein; much of China’s protein foods are high in carcinogens (cancer causing substances).
Other research (e.g., Journal of Cancer Research, 1983) links low protein intake with higher cancer rates. In summary, the seeming associations between cancer rates and protein intake are foggy, and causation cannot, and should not, be inferred.
One thing is for sure, very crystal clear: the association between obesity and cancer.
Excess fat kills, not to mention is unsightly. This is where protein comes to the rescue, on so many levels. Protein beats out carbs and dietary fats any day when it comes to fighting obesity and promoting high rates of fat burning and subsequent leaning out of the physique.
Here are the results of a study on dieters that was reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2010); Participants who consumed more protein:
- Had less hunger
- Had fewer food cravings
- Had decreased insulin levels
- Maintained lean mass
The benefits of protein don’t stop there. The Nutrition Journal (Vol. 9 # 72) reports on study participants who either ate a high protein dish twice a day, or had a no-protein dish.
After one year, researchers reviewed the participants’ kidney and liver function, and bone density, to see if the high protein group had any abnormal findings; there were none; both groups were the same, suggesting that high protein is not harmful.
Protein isn’t just not harmful, it’s very beneficial. Think of what some of the healthiest foods on the planet are; many are high in protein and just loaded with stellar nutrients:
- Fatty fish: rich in the very valuable omega 3 fats
- Wild game (e.g., bison, elk) and grass fed beef: provide omega 3s, plus iron, carnitine and other amino acids, creatine and vitamin B12
- Poultry: Chicken, for instance, is rich in vitamins B3, B6, the minerals selenium and phosphorus.
- Eggs: rich in vitamin D, E, selenium and provide omega 3s
- Seeds and nuts: rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants
- Beans: loaded with fiber and other nutrients
Can protein ever be bad? Protein, in and of itself, is a required macronutrient by the human body, and needed for optimizing muscle building.
The problem is when one consumes protein in the form of foods that are processed and contain harmful substances, such as cold cuts/luncheon meats, grain fed beef, chicken fried in vegetable oil, deep fried bean burritos and sugar coated almonds.
What About Protein For Fat Loss?
Protein is very essential for safe, satisfying and permanent fat loss. How many people report that they’re hungry after eating a protein rich food? This complaint, however, is common with carbohydrate rich meals.
Protein foods tend to be relatively low in calories, yet dense enough to be quite satiating. Protein and weight loss go hand in hand.
This doesn’t mean one should go overboard by consuming huge amounts of protein every day, but if one wants to build muscle and especially slash body fat, 20-30 grams of quality protein with each meal is a winning way to go.
The use of protein shakes for weight loss needs to be very carefully considered, because some brands contain many synthetic additives.
Again, it’s not that the protein itself is the problem, but it’s the other ingredients.
Some meal replacement drinks, that are high in protein, or at least contain something like 10 or 12 grams of protein for eight ounces, may contain a slew of artificial ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and chemical flavorings.
What About Protein For Health?
Protein is very important for anybody who has insulin resistance, impaired glucose metabolism or diabetes, or is concerned about developing these conditions.
Protein slows the absorption of carbohydrates.
The last thing a person with a problem involving glucose metabolism needs is the consumption of fast absorbing (“quick acting”) carbohydrates, as this causes a spike in insulin production. This process, if repeated enough, will put strain on the pancreas.
Eating protein with every carb meal will stunt absorption of carbs, and hence, won’t provoke as much of an insulin response.
When the body is injured, it desperately needs protein. Protein helps heal the body from trauma. Savvy medical professionals urge their injured patients to increase protein intake to aid in recovery.
If protein has been associated with health problems, it’s because the foods that contain protein also contain hazardous ingredients like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and other added sugars, preservatives, chemical dyes and other manmade, non-redeeming ingredients.
Protein, in its purest state, from whole foods, is part of the natural food chain, and should be embraced by those wishing for optimal health, weight loss, elimination of annoying hunger or cravings, and permanent leanness.
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