For 20 years, a research team has observed more than 2,400 Finnish men. What they have learned gives us some insight into some of the long-term health effects of one of the most popular dieting fads.
The fascination for high-protein diets is not new. In the 1970s, the American doctor Robert Atkins popularized the idea with his eponymous diet plan, which should help people to lose weight quickly. Today similar therapies are still on the market. In April 2018, Pierre Dukan, a French doctor, introduced the Dukan diet, which also emphasizes limited carbohydrate intake while promoting protein.
Despite the popularity of such diets, research on how they affect heart health is relatively low. However, a new study published this week by the American Heart Association shows that eating a lot of protein ̵
This research project began in 1984, when scientists launched the risk factor ischemic heart disease study. As part of the study, scientists recruited 2,441 middle-aged and older men and tracked their daily protein intake for an average of 22 years.
Each participant was assessed how much milk, animal, plant and total protein they were eating. In each of these four categories the participants were divided into four quartiles; The researchers then compared the top quartile in each lower quartile category. For example, they looked at the risk of heart failure for the 25% who ate the most milk protein, compared to the 25% who consumed the least milk protein.
In general, higher protein intake was associated with a greater risk of heart failure. A total of 334 people experienced heart failure during the research period. But those study participants who ate (and drank) most of the milk and animal protein sources had the highest risk of heart failure – and there was no correlation between heart failure and fish and egg protein consumption. The findings give health professionals even more reason to promote diets rich in vegetables, fish, beans and nuts.
These findings are particularly important for establishing policy and health counseling in more prosperous countries where protein consumption is typically higher than in poorer regions of the world. In the US, for example, the average person eats about 100 grams of protein per day (paywall), about twice the amount recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Even vegans who do not eat meat usually consume 60 to 80 grams per day of foods such as beans, nuts, and broccoli – in the US.
All of this protein contributes to broader heart health trends. More than 610,000 people die each year from heart disease in the United States. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they account for approximately 25% of all deaths. More than 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 28% of them have a second heart attack each year. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the average daily protein intake in developing countries – including China and India – varies between 60 and 80 grams per day. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average is around 55 grams per day
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