High protein and low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins and Paleo diets, are really popular these days since a low carbohydrate diet (hence high protein) seems to lead to weight loss and improve cardiovascular health. However, there is a catch.
Although it is known that red meat, especially processed meat, is really bad for our health (see a previous article about it), a new study done at USC Davis School of Gerontology shows that high amounts of animal protein, including eggs and milk, intake are directly correlated to a higher cancer death rate. Even worse, if you are a middle-aged meat lover, your chance of early death is 74% higher than people who eat less protein. It is as bad as if you are smoking daily!
The study explains that the animal protein increases the quantity of a growth hormone in the body, which not only stimulates growth of normal cells but also cancer cells. Since everyone gets cancer cells at one point or another, if you eat high animal protein diet daily, it will increase the chance of the cancer cells surviving and spreading all over the body. However, this is not true with plant based proteins such as beans and legumes. The researchers found that the plant based protein does not affect the cancer rate.
Of course if you are still in pre-adolescence and growing, you need higher consumption of protein. It is also true that you need more protein in your diet, if you are older than 65 years old. Around that time, your growth hormone level dramatically drops and it is getting difficult to keep strong muscles on your body. If you are in this population, the benefit of higher protein intake out-weighs the disadvantage of getting cancer from it.
However, if you are older than, say a 25 year old, but younger than 65 year old, you should lower the protein consumption, at least, animal protein.
This, of course, does not mean that you should eat tons of carbohydrates such as sugar or white bread to accommodate for lost calorie intake. That is a sure way to gain unwanted body fat!
So what should we do?
First of all, most people are eating twice as much protein a day than they need. Unless you are a competitive body builder, you don’t need that much protein to be healthy. It is recommend to limit your protein intake to 0.8grams per 1 kg of your body weight (or 0.01 oz. per pound). For example, if you are 130 lbs., limit your protein intake to 45 to 50 grams (about 1.7oz) a day.
Although fish is, in general, is a healthy source of protein and has a good benefit for the heart’s health, if you eat too much, the cancer risk also goes up; Omega-3 in the fish oil is known to increase the chance of prostate cancer among men. It is recommended to eat fish a few times a week to supply enough Omga-3 into the body, but you may not want to eat it too often.
If you can, you may want to replace all protein from red meats with plant based proteins, such as bean and legumes. Tofu is good, but some researchers worry about the side effect from the chemical in soy, which mimics sex hormones. However, watching the Japanese who consume large amount of soy products, it seems OK for now as long as you don’t eat huge amounts daily. Again, moderation is always good.
As for carbohydrate foods, you need to eat complex carbohydrate foods such as brown rice, whole grain bread, and vegetables. It is always recommended to eat carbohydrate foods with protein. The protein slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood stream and keeps you less hungry longer.
If you think that you are not getting enough calories (Ok, it is less likely, but possible) you can also add take extra virgin olive oil as an energy source, which is really good for the cardio vascular system, and coconuts oil which is good for the brain. We need these oils in our body to ensure our body functions correctly.
In short, the vegetarian based balanced meal seems a healthier choice. You don’t need to be a vegetarian, but when you prepare your food, prepare it like a vegetarian and then add a bit of meat, egg, or fish onto your dish. It is still really tasty!