Why are we so scared of ‘protein’


Are we, in a bid to shun carbs, ODing on protein? A look at pop fitness’ big imbalanceThe one study that’s got fitness commentators tied in a knot over the last few weeks is one that questions the goodness of protein. In an atmosphere that her-alded sugar as your number 1 enemy (it ups BP, can cause cirhossis and Type 2 diabetes, make you fat, and sick), and suggested you stay away from processed fats if you wished to win the war against cholesterol, protein was the only do-gooder. Not anymore.A recent study of 6,381 people conducted by the Na-tional Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the USA has questioned the long-term health effects of overdosing on protein, especially at a time when protein-centric diets like the Atkins and Paleo are gaining favour. The Atkins for instance, is a high-protein, highfat diet popularised by Hollywood stars that severely restricts carbohydrates. A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as harm-ful to health as smoking, is the controversial claim the study makes.Researchers claim that high levels of dietary animal protein in people under 65 years of age was linked to a fourfold increase in the risk of death from cancer or diabetes.It’s a not a debate that’s restricted to America, espe-cially since fitness-loving urban Indians have for long picked protein over carbohydrates and fats. In a bid to build muscle, and sustain the sixpack abs revolu-tion, young men are pumping iron and stuffing up on protein. Women, too, while losing weight are shun-ning carbohydrates in favour of the big P.As a consequence, what is one of the most important blockbuilding constituents of our cells is turning into our worst enemy. Pooja Makhija is a consulting nutritionist and clinical dietitian, who says, the im-balance is gaining dangerous proportions. An ideal meal, she explains, should have 20-25% protein, 65% carbs, and 5-10% fat. “But when weightloss becomes the focus, the balance is titled. Some people end up eating as much as 65% protein. What they must real-ise is that protein alone can’t build muscle. The right workout is important too.”The importance of protein Protein is a macronutrient that helps build and re-pair tissue, provide structure and strength, and at the cellular level, function as enzymes and hormones. It is composed of 20 amino acids, some of which are im-portant for the immune system. This means our body needs it in large amounts every day to function at an optimum.Our organs, muscles, skin, hair, nails and bones are all made up of protein. One gram can provide about four kilocalories of energy.The crisis kicks in when you overdo it. Experts say, ODing on protein can for one, overload the kidneys — vital organs that help remove waste from the body. High animal protein diets are often also high in cholesterol, low in fibre and thus may contribute to obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. Bariatric nutritionist Miloni Shah Sancheti stresses the importance of exercise, when she explains how an overdose of protein can sometimes de-feat the weightloss goal. “Excess protein, if not used through activity and exercise, gets stored as fat, thus negating your effort to lose weight.” If you have a sedentary job, you need less protein than someone who is active or exercises every day. “Restricting any one single dietary nutri-ent is bound to affect your health,” she says. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for sed-entary individuals is 0.8 grams protein per kilo-gram body weight per day.Strike the balance Sports nutritionist Abhishek Singh suggests that protein be accompanied by elements that it gets along well with — water, salads, olive oil and omega 3 fatty fish.“Adequate water intake is crucial because it helps transport protein efficiently through the body. Thirst is a very late indicator of dehydra-tion. Don’t always wait to feel thirsty. Protein is evil when it’s ODed on alone.”Singh suggests men include 15% fat in their meals, and women keep it at 20%. Add unpolished grains and salads to your meals to avoid the onset of diabetes. Carrots, for instance, when eaten raw, release nutrients very slowly into the blood stream, thus avoiding a sudden spike in insulin levels. This helps keep diabetes at bay.