This week’s papers broke the news of new research, which states that high protein diets are as bad for the health as smoking. This damning statement is based on a study by the University of Southern California, but the results should not be taken at face value – the headline misrepresents the data in this paper.
The study is a relatively small one, based on a one-off 24 hour recall of dietary intake, which has been linked to the risk of developing diseases in the following 18 years.
The authors state that the group which consumed the lowest amount of protein had the smallest risk of dying from a major illness, including cancer. However, the study as a whole was based on only 6,000 people, and only 400 of these were in the healthy low protein group. Studies based on such small numbers can often produce unpredictable results, so in this instance we should be cautious.
The paper goes on to report that a high protein diet increases cancer risk up to the age of 65 years, but a higher protein intakes after the age of 66 actually reduces cancer risk. This doesn’t make good biological sense, and again, may be a chance finding based on small numbers.
At Genesis, we have spent 11 years researching The 2-Day-Diet. The diet itself existed in a number of forms and was carefully clinically trialled before it was published. Being overweight can increase the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 40 per cent and maintaining a healthy weight is the one of the best ways to reduce this risk. One of the most effective ways to do this is with a diet which is moderately high in protein (providing 20–25per cent of a person’s daily calorie intake), and also include healthy fats and high fibre carbohydrates.
To say that a ‘high protein diet is as bad for health as smoking’ is incredibly misleading; the harmful effects of smoking have been repeatedly and consistently shown in numerous trials, but the harmful effects of high protein diets are not backed up by other larger, higher quality studies.
A much larger Women’s Health Initiative study, showed that women with a higher protein intake had an 8 per cent fewer cancers overall and found high calorie intakes increased the risk of developing cancers, including breast cancer.
Too much of any nutrient, including protein, can cause health problems, but protein is important for weight loss, as it’s satiating and helps maintain muscle mass. In this instance, it seems that the results of a rather small study, which has not conclusively proved that high protein diets are dangerous, has been picked up by the media and sensationalised.