The debate on protein’s role in general health, as a dietary need and supplement, has been in heavy discussion over the past decade. National media recently stated that the health implications of a high protein diet could be compared to that of smoking, although the NHS were quick to play down the papers’ interpretations of a recent study.
The study in question assessed the diets of 6,381 Americans over a 24-hour period, which may not be representative of what the participants ate over a long period of time, where the debate on high protein diets runs a stronger cause. The scientists from the University of Southern California found a varying amount of results following their 18 year follow up, leading many to believe that there is little importance in the findings and that further research needs to take place.
Results found that in the age group 50-65, those who ate a high protein diet were more likely to have health issues during the follow up than those who had a low protein diet. However in sharp contrast, and a factor that was overlooked by many of the UK’s leading newspapers, there was an increase in health and wellness for over 65 year olds who had high protein diets.
In conclusion, a statement read: ‘The researchers concluded that low protein intake during middle age followed by moderate to high protein consumption in older adults may optimise health and longevity.’ There are many factors to question about the study: the study group was very small as only 13% of the participants had low protein diets, the data used was not specifically collected for the purpose of the study and diets were only assessed once.
Protein accounts for 20% of your total body weight. Along with nutrients and vitamins, protein is very important in day to day eating habits, thus the majority of diets consist of a high protein and low carb intake. Sports scientist Ty Williams, managing director at Black Bear performance and fitness, Southampton, explains protein’s relationship with carbohydrates: “Protein, fats and carbs are essential, it’s more the amount you need of each as opposed to anything else. The amount of carbohydrates can be reduced in comparison to other macronutrients without complications for instance, nevertheless, you still need them.”
Protein is made from long chains of amino acids, with there being 20 amino acids that can be arranged in millions of varying ways to create millions of different proteins. They are an essential part of all living organisms. In humans they are vital for the structural components of body tissues such as muscle, hair, enzymes and antibodies. Protein is used to build, strengthen and repair tissue, create antibodies for the immune system and hormones. They are the foundation of muscle contractions, carry hemoglobin and mediate cell responses.
The scientific understanding of a high protein diet and its relationship with health is in a state of growth. With more research regularly taking place, soon there should be a state of common ground. The complications in understanding protein lies in the nitrogenous compound itself, with thousands of different forms of protein strands reacting differently to bodies depending on age, sex, body weight, muscle mass, daily muscle exertion and general health. A growing child requires a lot more protein in comparison to the elderly, whilst if you naturally weigh more through height, bone density, muscle mass, tissue and cells you are likely to need more protein.
The final factor to consider is how you achieve a higher intake of protein. Previous studies have underlined the links between liver issues and high red meat diets, although the message is often convoluted in the media. Red meat is just one of many sources of protein. Excluding meat, poultry and eggs, protein sources can be found in dairy products, seeds and nuts, quorn, grains and vegetables. The best approach on protein is to find the proportion that fits with the make-up of your lifestyle, whilst mixing up your protein intake through numerous sources.
What is your favourite meal that contains a good source of protein?