Admit it.

Sometimes there's a fear in the back of your mind about your high protein intake..."is it healthy?" you ask yourself, stuffing your face with your favourite source.

There's been plenty of fear mongering in the past, but the truth is that currently on this subject, science has our back! 

I reported this year of a study that found protein to be beneficial for the heart and kidneys - and it's my pleasure to bring you more research that's found negligible health risks to a high protein diet (1).

It also compared animal v plant protein - so let's take a look at what was found! 

Is My High Protein Diet Healthy?

There's currently no cause for alarm.

This research was not cause and effect, but rather epidemiological evidence - gathering a whole heap of people and their statistics and drawing a link.

Whilst generally these studies are good only for generating an insight or hypothesis, there was some merit in the research as I'll get to. 

The researchers examined data from the Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which allowed them to look at information on 131,342 participants who had been followed for several decades.

What they found firstly was those with the highest animal protein intake had a 3% higher mortality risk - which was very small. The graph below shows how small that is:

 

Health risks of high-protein diet are negligible

Graph: Ergolog adapted from Song et al.

This increase in mortality meant an increased risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. But not to stress - of course there's a difference between an unhealthy person who drinks smokes, doesn't exercise and chows down on red meat consistently. 

Someone like you and I who likely doesn't smoke, drink too much, and exercises regularly but still consumes red meat, is likely to be much healthier - and this is what a lot of these studies don't take into account!

But this one did afterwards - and that's why I love it.  

They then looked at the link between premature mortality and the consumption of animal proteins - but now with the participants placed into a group with a healthy lifestyle and a group with at least one unhealthy lifestyle factor.

And when this analysis was done, the small negative health effect of the diet high in animal protein was found in the unhealthy lifestyle factor group. Check out the graph below:

Health risks of high-protein diet are negligible

Graph: Ergolog adapted from Song et al.
 

The point here is that when we maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to this research (and more), red meat intake shouldn't be too much of an issue.

It's all about a combination of factors that can sink the ship.

Animal Proteins vs Plant Proteins 

The researchers also looked at the effect of plant-based proteins. The more of these that the participants consumed, the lower their mortality risk, as the graph below shows.

Health risks of high-protein diet are negligible

Graph: Ergolog adapted from Song et al.

 

The researchers calculated here that for every 3% of energy intake that came from plant-based proteins - risk of dying was reduced by 10%. Not bad if you like plant proteins!

Now for some of us, being a vegan isn't a step we'd like to take. However, it's not required to live a healthy life.

But there's definetly no harm in doing so! 

Further analysis shows that replacing processed meats with plant proteins had a positive effect - which is not surprising. Processed meats taste great and can be enjoyed in moderation - just don't go overboard.

Getting plenty of fibre may also help fight cancer - so keep that in mind daily, whether you're eating red meat or not! 

The researchers leave us with:

"Although higher intake of animal protein was associated with higher mortality [...], these associations were confined to participants with at least 1 lifestyle risk factor....substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer a substantial health benefit."

Now remember - the jury is still well and truly out when it comes to the solid, black and white, cause and effect evidence of animal vs plant proteins.

This is not a study for vegans to take and claim victory! For starters, as I mentioned, it's not a cause and effect study. 

What this research is, however, is some more insight into a high protein diet and how premature death is less likely when we combine it with a healthy lifestyle. Protein sources may or may not be the difference in the end - this will be a subject of ongoing debate for a long time!

However, limiting processed meats probably isn't a bad idea. A small amount of bacon a day is ok - but it's all about the dosage. 

What I think we should take away from this research is this - enjoy your high protein diet with either animal proteins and/or plant based proteins, together with the healthiest lifestyle possible - and don't stress about premature death...you need the protein for the weight loss and gains!  

 

"Stay Fit, Stay Flexed!" 

 

Reference

(1) Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett WC, Longo VD, Chan AT, Giovannucci EL. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Oct 1;176(10):1453-1463. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.4182.