Sat, Nov-17-18, 06:50
Why we’re all eating too much protein
Another anti-meat article
From The Times
17 November, 2018
Why we’re all eating too much protein
It is added to everything from yoghurt to bread with the promise that it aids weight loss and builds muscle. Has our protein obsession gone too far?
Protein is beloved by the perfect people of Instagram. For the shiny regulars on social media who post updates on their daily diets, it’s the wonder-nutrient that is hailed for its ability to curb cravings and accelerate the effects of a workout by maintaining muscles and “shredding” fat. It’s no surprise that the rest of us have bought into the message that protein is what is needed to help us to achieve our diet and fitness goals.
In a report produced by a US-based research company that tracks food-culture trends, it was revealed that 60 per cent of consumers are actively trying to increase their protein intake and that it is considered by many to be a key component in weight loss and diet.
Cue a race by manufacturers to add it to the most unlikely products. Scan the aisles of a supermarket and you will find protein added to everything from yoghurt, coconut water and iced coffee to smoothies, noodles and chocolate spread. A burgeoning and bizarre trend is the emergence of high-protein versions of high-carb foods such as Weetabix, Snickers and Nature Valley bars, as well as bagels, bread and Ryvita.
Fifteen years ago the Atkins diet popularised the idea that ditching carbs and upping our protein content was the key to staying slim. By 2003 about three million people in the UK were increasing their protein intake Atkins-style. Since then, fashionable eating plans, from Dukan to South Peach and Paleo, have enthusiastically promoted protein consumption.
It’s a trend that won’t go away, but is the attention warranted? Protein is known to be the most satiating of all macronutrients. It helps to assuage hunger pangs and to lower calorie intake, but only to a point. “Its reputation has escalated from popular diet fads and people think it will help to tackle weight problems and the obesity crisis,” says Helen Bond, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. “We see protein as this miracle ingredient that can be added to food and keep us slim and healthy, but it is an absolute myth.”
It’s not that protein isn’t important, because it is. Bond says that it’s essential to body tissues, required for growth and for the healthy maintenance of muscles and bones. Government guidelines suggest that we need 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily, or about 45g a day for an adult woman and 55.5g for a man. To give an idea of what this looks like, there are about 32g in a serving of tofu or a cod fillet, 10.6g in a small Greek yoghurt and 40g in a small can of tuna.
Studies have shown that protein can help the body to cope with the demands of strenuous workouts. Intense physical activity causes microscopic tears in muscles that are repaired by protein, creating more muscle mass in the process, and it’s accepted by scientists that avid exercisers need more. “People who do a lot of strength training need a little more — between 1.2g to 1.7g per kilogram of their body weight daily — to support their muscle mass,” Bond says. “And endurance athletes should aim for 1.2g to 1.4g per kilogram of their weight to cope with the demands of training.”
But most of us, whether pushing the boundaries of physical endeavour or not, get more than enough from ordinary food and have little difficulty in meeting the recommended daily intake. According to the latest statistics from the government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the average daily protein intake is about 87.4g for men and 66.6g for women, well above what we need. The same goes for younger people. For example, protein-obsessed teenage boys, who need only 55.2g to fuel rapid growth, pack in 72.5g a day. Even teenage girls consume significantly more than the dietary recommendation of 45g, with an average daily intake of 57.9g. Our risk of developing a deficiency is tiny, says the nutrition therapist Ian Marber, who adds: “It’s far easier than you think to get enough without supplementation in unnecessary ways.”
Bond adds: “It used to be thought that it was more difficult to get the right balance of amino acids and protein from plant foods. But even on a vegan diet there is ample opportunity to pack in the required amount from beans, pulses, nuts and whole grains.”
Supplementing foods with protein because they don’t naturally contain huge amounts is a contentious area. “Different types of protein are being added to different foods and in differing amounts,” Bond says. “Science hasn’t yet proven which type of protein is most effective at promoting satiety and it could be that some types have little effect.” In some cases, she says, all you are getting when protein is added is extra calories.
There is some evidence that we may need proportionately more protein in our diet from our forties onwards to help to offset sarcopenia, the decline in muscle mass that occurs naturally as we age. But there’s a caveat: it applies only if we increase the amount of resistance exercise that we are doing, meaning that more push-ups, more burpees and more weights need to be added to the equation.
This was shown in a review paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine this year in which researchers from McMaster University in Canada looked at results from 49 previous studies to find out if eating higher amounts of protein during periods of weight training produced bigger and stronger muscles in adults.
Their data showed, unsurprisingly, that everyone who trained on weights got stronger, but that adding more protein did have an effect, although it was a relatively small one compared with their control groups. They were also keen to stress that eating a lot more protein was not better. They calculated that for people who lift weights, the tipping point for daily protein intake is about 1.6g per kilogram of body weight each day. That’s 100g of protein a day for someone who weighs 10st. If you ate two eggs for breakfast (12g of protein), a cheese sandwich on two rounds of wholemeal bread (23g) for lunch and a small fillet steak (52g) with a chick pea and quinoa salad (14.6g) for dinner, you would get enough to support any extra gym activity. Consuming more than that — by nibbling on a protein-infused chocolate bar or a post-workout whey shake — produced no additional muscle gain.
“What’s absolutely crucial for people to understand is that eating more protein won’t make you more lean and toned,” Bond says. “There must be a component of load-bearing exercise for that to happen. And if you consume more than the body and muscles need, it will be excreted and the extra calories laid down as fat.”
Concerns that overloading on protein can put strain on the kidneys are, Marber says, overplayed. “Unless you have existing kidney problems, most people are perfectly adept at dealing with even relatively high amounts of protein,” he says.
However, research is suggesting that diets too high in protein can have an adverse effect on our microbiota, with potentially damaging consequences. “Consuming a lot of protein from meat sources seems to wreak the most damage on our gut flora,” Bond says. “And there have been links to high-protein intake and colon cancer as well as type 2 diabetes.”
In August, research published in the Lancet warned that low-carb/high-protein diets were as problematic as high-carb diets in raising the risk of premature death. According to a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, a moderate amount of carbohydrates was best for a lengthy lifespan and that people who got their protein from plant-based foods had a lower mortality risk than those who ate a lot of meat, butter and cheese.
Where you get your protein matters, and, Bond says, the priority should be sources such as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds, with some dairy, lean meat and fish if you eat it. Protein-added foods we can do without. They are invariably more expensive and, Bond says, “they are providing something you absolutely don’t need more of to stay fit and well”.