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Likely as a result of the popularity of the high-protein diet, the Atkins diet and Paleo, America has shifted its consumption of protein and meat to levels we have never seen before, and many researchers are finding reasons to be concerned. The most recent report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed a somewhat shocking statistic. (1)
The average protein intake for an adult men is 101.9 grams, and for adult women is 70.1 grams. (1) The recommended amount of daily protein, set by the US Food and Nutrition Board, is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women – which comprises about 10-15% of the daily calories. This tells us that the average American is eating almost twice the amount of protein that they need.
One of the concerns of higher protein diets, especially those with an emphasis on red meat and seafood, is high uric acid levels – which are not regularly checked by doctors during annual check-ups.
High uric acid levels from a rich, high-purine diet of meats and seafood are silently soaring here in the US. In the NHANES-III 1998-1999 report, the average rate of high uric acid in the blood was 3.2% of the US adult population, and in the 2007-2008 report, that number jumped to 21%. (2)
In the past, uric acid levels were most commonly associated with gout, but many studies are now linking what are called “normal” levels of uric acid to weight gain, heart health concerns, blood sugar issues and mortality. (2) Ask to get your uric acid levels checked when you get your next blood test.
Red Meat in Moderation
Interestingly, vegetarians seem to tolerate meat better than regular meat eaters, suggesting that red meat is best in moderation. If you eat it regularly, there are documented risks. In one study, when meat eaters were given an amino acid called L-carnitine – which is abundant in red meat – they produced significant levels of a toxic cancer-causing substance called TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide). (3) When vegetarians or vegans were given L-carnitine they produced significantly less TMAO. (4)
There are well-known risks of eating excessive amounts of red meat, but this trend of increasing red meat consumption presents an even higher level of risk according to a new JAMA article. (5) In a massive four year study following almost 150,000 people and published in the prestigious Journal of American Medicine (JAMA):
- One group INCREASED their consumption of red meat by only ½ a serving per day and saw a 48% INCREASED risk of getting type 2 diabetes. (5)
- The other group LOWERED their consumption of red meat by ½ a serving per day saw a 15% REDUCTION in type 2 diabetes risk. (5)
This study goes against the high-protein (red meat) credo that a high-carb diet is the cause of diabetes, and that a high-protein diet will actually support healthy blood sugar levels. The key here is that both will cause problems in excess.
So, How Much Meat Is Right For You?
To find out how many grams of protein are in your food, simply google the food item and you will quickly find the grams of protein in that food.
In my protein eBook, The Protein Solution, I provide this easy measurement: Adults need .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would need to ingest 54 grams of protein per day. Another way to look at it is that protein should be about 10-15% of your daily calories.
54 grams of protein would look something like this:
- Breakfast: 2 eggs (12 grams of protein)
- Lunch: 4 ounces of salmon (28 grams of protein)
- Dinner: 1/4 cup of nuts (6 grams of protein), 1 ounce of goat cheese (6 grams of protein) and 2 tablespoons of hummus (2 grams of protein)
As we move into winter, shift your diet to increase the intake of healthy fats and proteins. That said, before you start piling your plate with ribs, take a moment to evaluate your current protein consumption. Try to keep the meat in your diet to 10% of your calories, and the quality should be given special attention. There is good science comparing red meat to processed red meat, and quality does make a difference. (6) Grass-fed beef is significantly healthier than grain-fed and processed meat, yet studies on grass-fed beef are only just beginning. Get your additional protein from nuts, seeds, cheeses, legumes and protein-rich grains such as quinoa and amaranth.
My point here is to highlight a dangerous shift in protein intake and uric acid levels that are also linked to weight gain, heart concerns and diabetes. Interestingly, a diet high in carbs over time is linked to the same conditions in many studies – so what do we believe?
It’s time we strike a balance – one prescribed by nature that has fed us and our primate ancestors for some 26 million years. Clearly and logically, our ancestors adapted to the ebb and flow of nature’s harvest and ate with the seasons, shifting protein, fat and fruit and veggie intake geographically and seasonally. (7) Hunter-gatherers were more famous for their gathering than their hunting. While meat was certainly consumed, the staple of the hunter-gatherer diet was also rich in grains, fiber, tubers, legumes and fruits and veggies, according to paleoanthropologist and Harvard professor, Daniel Lieberman. (8)
Let’s reconnect with the concept of eating with the seasons and be mindful. As with everything, moderation is key!