3 reasons to avoid high animal protein diets and the science behind them

In the last 5 years, have you ever attempted a high-protein, animal-based diet to lose weight?  Think Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, Sugar Busters... any of these ring a bell?  What happened when you first adopted the diet?  My hunch is you lost weight.  Originally.  Is this correct?  My next hunch is that years maybe even months later, the weight returned, and possibly and some!  Not surprising (unfortunately), as the science follows this pattern as well.  

3 reasons to avoid high animal protein diets and the science behind them

1.  Animal protein Increases risk of weight-gain and diabetes.

Science continues to show that high-protein diets are associated with weight-gain (1), (2) diabetes (1) and even death! (3).  Ahh!  Who cares about losing a few extra pounds if it's going to knock years off your life or increase your chances of gaining weight in 5 or 10 years?  

Multiple studies have show that as the amount of animal food in the diet increases, BMI increases.

The Adventist Health Study II (1) followed 22,434 men and 38,460 women (60,894 people) for 4 years.  Vegans (those consuming no animal products) were the only group to experience a normal BMI.  As the amount of animal food in the diet increased, weight-gain increased as well.  

This isn't the only large cohort study to find an association between weight-gain and meat consumption.  The EPIC-PANACEA study followed 103,455 men and 270,348 women (373,803 people) to assess the association between meat consumption and weight gain over 5 years.  What'd they find?  "Total meat consumption [including poultry] was positively associated with weight gain in men and women, in normal-weight and overweight subjects, even when adjusted for energy intake" (2).  This means, that even if you’re eating the same amount of calories of animal food compared to plant food, you’re still more likely to gain weight just from eating meat.  Yowzers!

2.  High-protein diets are associated with an increased risk of death.

The Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article (3) conducting a secondary analysis of the PREDIMED trial, a large randomized control trial of 7,447 older adults at high cardiovascular risk.  The researchers measured participant's dietary intake with a food frequency questionnaire.  The researchers found those eating the largest amount of animal protein as a percentage of energy, had a 69% greater risk of all-cause death than those eating the lowest amount of animal protein after adjusting for cofounders.  Participants eating the most animal protein, also showed a significant risk of cardiovascular events and death from cancer, cardiovascular and all-cause death.

3.  High-protein diets aren't sustainable to eat over the long-term.  

Ideally, we should be able to maintain a diet for years and experience continual health improvements if it is indeed good for us -- not short-term results, with an increased risk of harm later in life.  

With the continued prevalence of high-protein diets in American culture, it's easy to eat a high-protein, animal-based diet even if you aren't following a prescribed diet per say.  Are you eating animal foods (cheese, yogurt, meat, chicken, fish etc.) everyday?  How many times a day?  How many times a week?  Consider swapping animal-based meals or snacks for those from plant-origin to reduce caloric intake and eat those fruits, veggies, whole-grains and legumes Americans aren't eating enough of.  There's an abundance of recipes and kitchen tips to help you get started on the blog.

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What did you learn from this article?  How many times a week do you eat animal foods?


1.  Tonstad, S et al. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009 May; 32(5): 791–796.

2.  Vergnaud AC et al. Meat consumption and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Aug;92(2):398-407. 

3.  Hernández-Alonso, P et al. High dietary protein intake is associated with an increased body weight and total death risk. Clin Nutr. 2015 Apr 7.