Protein Paleo panic. Is your higher protein diet going to send you to an early grave? As of a week ago, most news outlets would tell you that “high levels of protein can be as bad for you as smoking.” (It is very interesting to note that somehow a high protein diet becomes good for you at precisely the age of 65, according to the paper… smoking, however, does not.)
Will Your Diet Actually Kill You?
Yes. It doesn’t matter if you are vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, low fat, low carb, or anything else there is a 100% correlation between eating and death. I am sure you’re thinking to yourself, “Josef, sure there is a correlation between eating any diet and death, but you can’t say that one causes the other.” You’re absolutely right, just because two things happen at the same time does not mean that one causes the other (“correlation does not imply causation”), and this brings us to…
Issue #1 with the paper: at best, the “evidence” is a correlation. The authors present a positive correlation between protein intake and mortality from age 50 to 65, but it then flips on itself from age 65 to 80. So, for 15 years a high protein diet is bad for you, and then for the next 15 years it is good for you and extends your life expectancy.
How Many Cucumbers Did You Eat in 2013?
Issue #2 with the paper: nobody really knows what anyone in the study was eating, or how much they were eating. The “data” for this study (and for most nutrition “science” that you hear in the news) is gathered from something called a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ), specifically they used the NHANES Food Questionnaire which I will quote from:
“General instructions: answer each question as best you can. Estimate if you are not sure. A guess is better than leaving a blank.” [emphasis added]
“Over the past 12 months… How often did you eat raw cucumbers (not including pickles)? NEVER; 1-6 times per year; 7-11 times per year; 1 time per month; 2-3 times per month; 1 time per week; 2 times per week; 3-4 times per week; 5-6 times per week; 1 time per day; 2 or more times per day” [emphasis not added]
Do you know how many raw cucumbers you ate in the past 12 months? I don’t. I love cucumbers, but I have no idea how many times I ate them in 2013. The questions about how many milk drinks, hamburgers and other things you’ve had over the past 12 months go on for 24 pages.
It’s very important not to overreact to what you hear in the news especially when it comes to diet and exercise. One week you’ll read a story on how high intensity exercise is amazing for you, and the next you will hear that low intensity is the way to go. If you’ve dropped 30lbs and gotten off your high blood pressure meds with a higher protein diet, a random headline in the news does not change your results.
Josef Brandenburg is the leading fitness coach in the DC area with over 15 years of experience. He and his team are transforming people’s lives and bodies at The Body You Want Fitness Solutions in Georgetown. To find out how to get the body you want in the time you actually have, check out the website and like them on Facebook.