Want strong bones, healthy skin, and robust muscles? Eat your protein! Research indicates that protein can help speed up your metabolic processes, encourage weight loss, and keep you healthy overall. But don’t go overboard. Studies also show that too much protein may do more harm than good, particularly on your heart.
Protein’s Effect on Your Heart
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 5.7 million Americans suffer from heart failure. In 2009, 1 out of every 9 deaths was attributed to heart failure. We know that dietary factors such as sodium, cholesterol, and fat all play a role in heart decline, but recent research sheds light on the effects of protein on heart health. Researchers from Brown University Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island presented findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016 in New Orleans that show how protein may increase your risk for heart failure.
Researchers analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). 103,878 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50-79 years old filled out a food frequency survey that noted daily consumption of nearly 125 different foods between 1993 and 1998. The analysis accounted for daily protein intake, including animal-based proteins and plant-based proteins.
In addition to survey results, researchers analyzed protein intake with tests measuring urinary nitrogen and doubly labeled water levels that measure metabolism. At the study’s baseline, all the women were clear of heart failure, but by the study’s end in 2005, 1,711 women were heart failure patients.
Here’s what the research revealed: The women on low-protein diets had a much lower risk for heart disease than did the women on high-protein diets. It didn’t matter the ethnicity, age, or education level, the high-protein/heart-failure link held, even in consideration of other health conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, anemia, or arterial fibrillation. The type of protein eaten, however, had a significant impact. Women who ate a diet high in plant-based protein had a much lower risk for heart failure than did women who ate a diet high in animal-based protein, such as red meat, pork, poultry, dairy products, and seafood.
Study co-author Dr. Mohamad Firas Barbour explains: “Higher calibrated total dietary protein intake appears to be associated with substantially increased heart failure risk while vegetable protein intake appears to be protective, although additional studies are needed to further explore this potential association.”
Other Reasons to Watch for Too Much Protein
Protein and the amino acids it’s made up of are the main building blocks for your muscles and bones, as well as hormones that optimize your body’s processes. As you age, especially during pregnancy, your body’s need for protein increases. But there’s an upper limit as to how much protein your body can handle.
A 2014 study published in Cell Metabolism showed that a diet too highly concentrated in protein increased the risk of developing diabetes and cancer, as well as all-cause mortality. Other studies show that too much protein can lead to weight gain and excess body fat, and stresses out your kidneys and deprives your bones of important minerals.
To help monitor protein intake, try to get the majority of your protein from plant-based sources, such as tempeh, nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, and quinoa. If you are a meat eater, make sure your protein is sourced from high-quality, pasture-raised animals and seafood from pristine waters.