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High-Protein Diet Risk Study Misleading for Paleo Eaters

high protein dietA misleading study that links high-protein diet to an increased risk for middle-aged eaters is being used to attack the Paleo diet movement. But there’s more to the study than meets the eye.

Study co-author, Valter Longo, professor of biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, said in a press release, “We provide convincing evidence that a high-protein diet, particularly if the proteins are derived from animals, is nearly as bad as smoking.” Articles began springing up around the net using the findings as ammunition to undermine the Paleo diet, a nutrition regiment than promotes the idea of eating only things a caveman would have eaten such as organic vegetables, clean meats, and some fruit.

The study, spanning 18 years, was published in Cell Metabolism on March 4 and shows that people aged 50-65 who eat a diet high in animal proteins from meat, milk and cheese suffer increased risk of death as compared to people within the same age group who consumed low-protein diets. The study also identified the role that a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, plays in driving diseases like cancer. The study included the observation of 6,831 middle-aged and older adults. Those with diets consisting of more than 20 percent of their calories from protein were four times more likely to die of cancer.

So, it seems that a high-protein diet is just bad news for people, especially ones who are middle-aged, but the study is misleading as it concerns Paleo eaters. First, strict Paelo eaters avoid dairy altogether while other Paleo eaters who do consume milk and cheese, limit their intake and choose natural dairy products over processed ones. Second, strict Paleo eaters avoid processed and hormone-treated, grain-fed meat, a major source of IGF-1, along with cow’s milk. Third, people in Dr Longo’s study were considered high-protein eaters if they met the threshold of their diet being at least 20 percent protein. How much of the other potential 80 percent of those eater’s diets were carbohydrates, which Paleo diet observers dismiss as unhealthy, and what portion of those carbohydrates were in the form of processed carbs and food high in sugar? There is more to this study than is being reported on and that makes it a poor weapon against Paleo in general.

The study also found that a high-protein diet, which was detrimental to the middle-aged people observed, was beneficial for people of advanced age, likely due to the fact that older people do not produce as much IGF-1 on their own. So the study consisted of people who both suffered and benefited.

Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist from the University of Reading, warned that it was dangerous to say protein consumption was as bad as smoking by saying, “Sending out statements such as this can damage the effectiveness of important public health messages.” This study is worthy of exploring, especially as it relates to consuming processed, grain-fed meat, as well as milk and cheese. But if one knows anything about the Paleo diet, they would realize that the findings of this high-protein risk study is misleading for eaters looking to make smart nutritional choices.

Opinion by Matt Stinson


LA Times
Integrative Oncology Essentials

Image credit: Carnivore Style

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