Why are we so scared of ‘protein’

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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 good-ness of protein. In an atmosphere that her-alded sugar as your number 1 enemy (it ups BP, can cause cirhossis and Type 2 diabe-tes, 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 any-more.A recent study of 6,381 people conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Exami-nation 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 se-verely restricts carbohydrates. A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as harmful to health as smoking, is the con-troversial claim the study makes.Researchers claim that high levels of di-etary animal protein in people under 65 years of age was linked to a fourfold in-crease in the risk of death from cancer or diabetes.It’s a not a debate that’s restricted to Amer-ica, especially 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 revo-lution, young men are pumping iron and stuffing up on protein. Women, too, while losing weight are shunning carbohydrates in favour of the big P.The importance of protein Protein is a macronutrient that helps build and repair tissue, provide structure and strength, and at the cellular level, func-tion as enzymes and hormones. It is com-posed of 20 amino acids, some of which are important 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 en-ergy.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 impor-tance of exercise, when she explains how an overdose of protein can sometimes defeat 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. “Restrict-ing any one single dietary nutrient is bound to affect your health,” she says. The Recom-mended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for sed-entary individuals is 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight per day.Strike the balance Sports nutritionist Abhishek Singh sug-gests that protein be accompanied by ele-ments 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 de-hydration. 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 un-polished grains and salads to your meals to avoid the onset of diabetes. Carrots, for instance, when eaten raw, release nutri-ents very slowly into the blood stream, thus avoiding a sudden spike in insulin levels. This helps keep diabetes at bay.Excess protein damage The US research, say Mumbai’s medical experts, isn’t entirely off the mark. The kid-neys, liver and colon are the first to take the hit in case of excessive protein consump-tion.Gastroenterologist Dr Rekha Bhat-khande says excess protein causes water loss, thereby leading to constipation and gut complications like haemorrhoids and ir-ritable bowel syndrome. A fatty liver is an-other fallout. Dr Samir Shah, hepatologist, explains, “Anything that damages the liver over a period of time can lead to cancer. The liver demands a balanced diet to function well. All excess is stored as fat, and this is dangerous because it can initiate liver dam-age. Upto 10% fat in the liver is permissible. Cross the 30% mark, and you are in trou-ble.”