Et tu, bratwurst?

Meat and cheese in shop window

It seems that every other week a new report is published on what foods are good or bad for you. Often, these reports conflict with earlier research. First coffee is bad, then it is good, and so it goes with other products. It's enough to drive a food lover crazy. Now the culprits seem to be meat and cheese: a study published March 4 in Cell Metabolism and reported in various outlets including the International Business Times, delivered the bad news that people who consumed a high amount of animal protein were four times as likely to die from cancer as people who ate a low-protein diet. Additional findings noted that people who eat high amounts of meat and cheese are twice as likely to die in general, and several times as likely to die from diabetes, as those with a low-protein diet.

This is not welcome news to meat and cheese lovers, and it also calls into question other research about the beneficial effects of eating more protein, such as this study which found that protein intake was important to combat obesity. For the current study, researchers defined a "high-protein" diet as one that derives 20 percent of calories from protein, (including both plant-based and animal-based protein); a "moderate" protein diet at 10-19 percent protein, and a "low-protein" diet less than 10 percent protein. An interesting finding in the study is that plant-based proteins didn't seem to have the same effect as animal-based proteins. So maybe it's time for beans to be "what's for dinner."

Instead of merely suggesting a static number for optimal protein intake for all adults, this study looked at how the body's needs change over time. It found that "while high protein in middle age is detrimental to health, you need more animal proteins after the age of 65."  As someone who is a diehard cheese and meat lover, this news is quite depressing. But if there is a silver lining in this study, it's that controlling for carbs and fats didn't seem to make a difference in mortality. (Hand me that brioche, please.) How will this new study affect your eating habits?

Photo Reiner Kraft via International Business Times

3 Comments

  • ellabee  on  3/5/2014 at 3:15 PM

    Given the nutritional differences between pastured meat and industrial feedlot meat, not to mention between different animals, I'm not going to get too alarmed without knowing a LOT more about the methodology and kinds of animal products the studied animal population ate. Also I'm over 60. More reason to shut out all the noise and stick to the old and excellent advice: a wide variety of whole foods in moderation.

  • darcie_b  on  3/5/2014 at 7:50 PM

    I didn't see the entire study, but it would seem to me that there might be a difference such as you suggest, and also between the kinds of meat: poultry vs. beef, for example. I try not to eat too much of any one thing - luckily I like almost everything so that's not a problem!

  • nickrey  on  3/5/2014 at 8:52 PM

    I read the whole study. 134 people died out of a sample of 6,381. Diet was self reported and for one day only. The groups were not matched on other variables such as BMI. It could well be that those who ate more animal protein also ate more fat and more in general. The intervening variable was that the mortality that they were looking at was diabetes-related and not related to Cardio vascular disease, cancer, or all-cause. There was an age interaction between protein consumption and other forms of mortality but if you torture the data enough, it is going to confess to something. Yet another poor epidemiological study with badly interpreted statistics grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons.

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