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When it comes to juicing and plant-based eating, many people ask me about how to get enough protein. But with the current food landscape offering high-protein versions of almost everything, could you actually be consuming TOO MUCH?

Once the reserve of body builders, protein shake are now EVERYWHERE and it is not just about shakes anymore either…

Many supermarkets now have dedicated sections for higher-protein products and in 2016 brands including Weetabix, Shreddies, Mars, Snickers and Batchelors Cup a Soup all launched ‘protein’ versions of their products as the trend for everything protein hit the mainstream.

According to Euromonitor, the market for sports protein products alone – which excludes most of the mainstream brands – is expected to hit £413m this year and almost £750m in 5 years’ time.

Do we really need all this extra protein?

Public Health England guidelines suggest a protein intake for 19- to 64-year-olds of 55.5g for men and 45g for women per day. A chicken breast has at least 23.5g of protein, while a 100g steak has about 21g.

The US Institute of Medicine takes a different approach, saying we each need a minimum of 0.8g per kg of body weight per day. Using this calculation, a 10 stone person (140 pounds / 63.5 kg) would be advised to consume 50g of protein per day.

“There’s been a lot of hype in gyms pushing high-protein shakes,” said Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, in a recent article in The Guardian.

“There’s also a need to get rid of a waste product from the dairy industry, which is whey protein. It’s a lot of crap, a way of selling a cheap product at a high price,” he added.

“It’s clever marketing. Unless you’re doing extreme exercise or pursuing extreme lifestyle goals, you don’t need extra protein,” said Danny Commane, a lecturer in nutritional science at the University of Reading.

A Mars spokeswoman said its bars were designed to be “a post-workout treat, to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet”. Weetabix said protein at breakfast “helps regulate appetite and daily food intake”.

“The majority of people are consuming much more than the recommended daily allowance of protein through their everyday diet. So even if you hit the gym regularly, spending money on protein supplements is unlikely to bring any additional benefit,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England.

So could this excess protein actually be doing harm?

The most recent US dietary guidelines warn that teenage boys and adult men should “reduce overall intake of protein foods” and eat more vegetables. This advice is overdue as in the US (and most Western Europe) people are already eating double the amount of protein recommended by the World Health Organisation.

“It’s an experiment”

In a recent article in the New York Times, Dr. John E. Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health described the increased consumption of protein as “an experiment”

“No one can tell you the long-term effects, and that’s what worries me as a physician,” he said, adding, “No one can tell you what the results are going to be in people’s bodies 10 or 15 years later.”

“One of the benefits and concerns about high protein intake, especially animal protein, is that it tends to make cells multiply faster,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, adding that “this is one of the fundamental processes that increase the risk of cancer.”

Research published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2014 (using data from more than 6,000 Americans) concluded that people aged between 50 and 65 who got 20% or more of their calories from protein were 74% more likely to die from cancer than those who ate less protein.

The study was less than perfect and was criticised for the fact that it only took dietary records for  a 24 hour period.

The research found also found that, in those over 65, a high-protein diet actually reduced the risk of dying early. It was unclear why the results should be so different for the two age groups.

The evidence on protein remains from this study is perhaps a little inconclusive.

Does the type of protein matter?

Research published in 2016 found that high intake of animal protein intake was associated with a higher risk of death, particularly cardiovascular disease, whereas a high intake of plant protein resulted in a lowered risk.

It appears to me that science is still trying to workout what nature already knows. My belief is the less we break nutrition down into isolated elements and the more we focus on eating a diet rich in plant-based whole foods the better our health will be.

As I’ve said many times before, only when we eat as nature intended will we be as nature intended.

 

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