Meat-Lovers, We’ve Got Some Bad News For You

The rate of heart failure was 33 percent higher for people who ate the most protein-rich diets. JGA/Shutterstock

Protein shake-guzzlers and barbecue lovers, we’ve got some bad news. A new piece of research suggests high-protein diets may slightly increase the risk of heart failure in middle-aged men.

In particular, diets that are heavy in dairy and animal protein were found to carry a higher risk than those without, while diets rich in egg and fish proteins appeared to not affect the rate of heart failure at all.

Many dieters turn to a protein-rich meal in a bid to lose weight and avoid carbohydrates; however, the researchers of this study say that comes with its own risk.

“As many people seem to take the health benefits of high-protein diets for granted, it is important to make clear the possible risks and benefits of these diets,” Jyrki Virtanen, study author and an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, said in a statement“Earlier studies had linked diets high in protein – especially from animal sources – with increased risks of Type 2 diabetes and even death.”

As reported in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, scientists gathered nearly 2,500 middle-aged men and followed them for an average of 22 years. During the study, there were 334 cases of heart failure. The researchers split the men into four groups based on their daily protein consumption and analyzed the different rates of heart failure.

The rate of heart failure was 33 percent higher for people who ate the most protein-rich diets compared to those who at the least. More acutely, it was 49 percent higher for diets heavy in dairy protein, 43 percent higher for animal protein, and 17 percent higher for plant protein. Only proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams (0.02 ounces) of protein per kilogram of body weight. That’s pretty hard to visualize, but protein should only really make up around 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. As this study shows, it also matters where you obtain these proteins from, whether it's eggs and fish or steak and cheese. 

Many of the figures from the study sound pretty daunting, but even the researchers suggest you take the findings with a pinch of salt (and maybe some pepper too).

“As this is one of the first studies reporting on the association between dietary protein and heart failure risk, more research is needed before we know whether moderating protein intake may be beneficial in the prevention of heart failure,” added lead author Heli EK Virtanen, PhD student and early career researcher at the University of Eastern Finland. “Long-term interventions comparing diets with differential protein compositions and emphasizing differential protein sources would be important to reveal possible effects of protein intake on risk factors of heart failure. More research is also needed in other study populations.”


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