Research shows a diet high in animal proteins increases the risk of heart attacks and cancer. However, most people are still confused about whether these are healthy foods or unhealthy foods.
The reason for the confusion is because much of the nutritional information that floods our senses each and every day is contradictory.
We hear that meat and dairy are good for us and supply protein and calcium one day, and then the next we hear that meats and dairy have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and allergies.
The result of all of this confusion about nutrition is that most people get fed up and just eat whatever is convenient, and the number of sick and overweight people continues to skyrocket.
We can turn to research to end the confusion.
The China Study
The China Study was one of the most comprehensive studies done on the connection between diet and disease. The study took place in China, which proved to be an ideal setting to test the effects of diet.
In China, people often spend their entire lives in the same area they were born and because of the availability of food, people in one area ate a diet very different from another group of people living only a few hundred miles away.
For instance, one group ate a diet consisting completely of plant foods, while another group ate a diet high in animal foods.
The China study revealed shocking differences in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and cancer from region to region. Researchers found that as the consumption of animal foods increased, so did the emergence of heart disease and cancer.
Areas of China with a very low consumption of animal foods were all but free of heart attacks and cancer.
Animal products contain very few, if any, nutrients that protect you against heart disease and cancer, such as fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, folate, vitamin E, and plant proteins.
On the other hand, they are high in substances said to promote heart disease and cancer, such as saturated fat, cholesterol, arachidonic acid, and IGF-1 (4).
The China project showed that it is not only the fats in the meats we eat that are the problem; it is also the amounts of animal protein we consume.
In other words, it is not only fatty red meat that we must reduce, but also lean meats, turkey, and chicken.
The surprising finding is that even low-fat dairy products and chicken eaten without the skin raise cholesterol levels.
If you have been trying to reduce your intake of red meat to lower your cholesterol without results, you may need to reduce or eliminate all animal proteins (1).
Remember those people who lived in areas of China who consumed extremely low amounts of animal foods? The mainstay of their diet was plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes).
The China study confirmed virtually no heart attacks in the people that ate a near-vegetarian diet and almost no heart attacks in the people who ate a diet rich in natural plant foods (i.e. super foods) with less than 10% of their calories coming from animal foods. And, as for obesity, it is extremely rare as well (1).
What About Protein?
Don’t get me wrong, your body needs protein, and you will include some limited animal products in the super foods plan, yet the important take away is that plant foods contain plenty of protein to keep your body working optimally.
And contrary to one concern you may hear about mostly-plant-based diets, you do not need to mix and match foods to give your body complete proteins.
Any combination of natural plant-based foods will give you adequate protein, including all eight essential amino acids and the nonessential amino acids. Only vegetarians who eat a diet high in white bread and other processed foods run into problems with protein levels (1).
(1) Fuhrman, J. (2011). Eat to live: the amazing nutrient-rich program for fast and sustained weight loss (Rev. ed.). New York: Little, Brown and Co..