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SPECIAL REPOR T Should you be eating more protein-or less? Americans have had a love/hate relationship with protein, and the protein pendulum has been swinging like crazy lately. Many of us grew up thinking only good things about protein. Indeed, we can ’t live without it. But the trouble may be too much of a good thing. Indeed, some researchers have linked a high intake of animal protein to heart disease and other chronic disorders. On the other hand, high-protein weight-loss diets are the craze once again, as they were in the late sixties and early seventies (see box on page 5). If all this increasingly contradictory advice about protein makes your head spin, here ’s the lowdown. What ’s the problem with eating lots of protein? A diet high in protein-especially animal protein-is associated with an increased risk not only of heart disease and some cancers (such as colon and prostate), but also of osteoporosis and kidney damage. However, it ’s hard to prove this link, since we seldom eat pure protein. People who eat lots of animal protein do have higher rates of heart disease and cancers, but their diets also tend to be high in fat and low in antioxidants and fiber, as well as other potentially beneficial substances. Moreover, those who eat lots of animal protein may also be less health-conscious in general and less physically active than others. It may be such factors, rather than protein intake itself, that account for most of the increased risks. Is protein from plants more healthful? In carefully controlled studies, animals fed large amounts of isolated animal protein develop higher levels of blood choles- terol (especially LDL, the ‘bad” kind) than those fed vegetable protein. This suggests that something about the composition of animal protein boosts cholesterol. People who get their protein from plants have a lower risk of heart disease and are healthier in general. Last year, for instance, a widely publicized analysis of the benefits of soy protein suggested that it helps lower blood cholesterol and is thus good for the heart (though other compounds in soy may be largely responsible, see Wellness Letter, November 1995). Vegetarian sources of protein are also preferable because they ’re usually low in fat and high in fiber and other potentially beneficial sub- stances. Nevertheless, a few studies have suggested that a very high intake of even plant protein is undesirable, but it ’s rare for vegetarians to consume such large amounts of protein. Don ’t vegetarians have trouble getting enough protein? Vegetarian diets generally supply more than enough protein. Many grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein. However, except for soybeans, plant foods contain protein that ’s incomplete-that is, it has low and sometimes insufficient amounts of one or more of the nine essential amino acids. (Amino acids are protein ’s building blocks; the essential ones are those the body can ’t synthesize.) But if vegetarians eat
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This note was uploaded on 02/17/2011 for the course FOOD SCI 201 taught by Professor Horowitz during the Spring '10 term at University of Wisconsin.

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more_protein_less - SPECIAL REPORT NOTICE This material may...

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