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Are high-protein diets good for you?

One study calls into question the idea of eating protein for weight loss as well as the health benefits of high-protein diets, after researchers found high-protein, low-carb diets can lead to long-term weight gain and potential health risks.

As part of a long-term government-funded study out of Spain, researchers analyzed data over the course of six years. 7,000 people, all over the age of 55, without heart disease, were surveyed about their eating habits. They found that those eating a high-protein diet had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight. Researchers also found that those who replaced carbs with protein had a 50 percent greater risk of death during the study, and those who replaced fats with protein had a 66 percent increased risk of death.

It’s important to note that the study only found a link between protein, weight gain and risk of death and not a direct cause and effect link.

“Protein is important in the diet, but extra protein above and beyond your needs will not help you build more muscle or make you stronger,” says Rosemary Mueller, a registered dietitian with Advocate Medical Group Weight Management in Libertyville, Ill. “Nor is it a miracle cure for obesity. When you’re consuming too much of it, you may be taking in more calories and fat than your body needs.”

Protein consumption should be limited to between 10 and 35 percent of total calories, Mueller says. The Daily Reference Intake for protein ranges from .8 to 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight. Certain groups of individuals may require slightly higher grams per kilogram, such as athletes, some elderly individuals or those who have a particular disease, such as cancer.

However, due to concerns about cholesterol, those individuals who might have kidney problems, kidney stones or osteoporosis, consuming excess protein above and beyond the DRI is ill-advised.

“Protein from low-fat sources, eaten in small quantities more frequently throughout the day, can potentially assist with weight loss and enhance good health,” says Mueller.

She recommends consuming fish, beans, legumes, chicken without the skin, egg whites, fat free or low-fat dairy products, tofu or other soy protein sources like edamame, or very small portions of nuts or seeds.

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