The message that protein is a magic bullet for weight loss, muscle building, and athletic performance is standard in diet books and fitness circles. However, research from Dr. Bettina Mittendorfer and her team shows that increasing protein intake can have unintended consequences. While protein is essential for health, overeating activates specific cells in vascular function and disease pathways.

A team of scientists led by Dr. Bettina Mittendorfer wanted to understand how proteins affect health. They conducted studies with people and lab experiments with human cells and mice.

Eating more than 25 grams of protein per meal causes a specific response. It activates mTOR signals in cells called macrophages, which generally help keep blood vessels healthy. Too much mTOR signaling causes the macrophages to go into overdrive, making plaque buildup more likely, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes over time.

The researchers pinpointed that one amino acid, leucine, drives the mTOR signals. Leucine is common in foods like meat, eggs, and dairy. The more total protein people eat, the more leucine they consume. More leucine reaches the macrophages and tells them to activate the mTOR signals.

Finding the Sweet Spot for Protein Intake

In the past, many diets promoted eating more protein and less carbs and fat. However, this study found potential risks from too much protein, especially from animal foods containing leucine. Still, getting enough protein is essential - the researchers don't recommend going too low either.

Based on the results, they advise eating about 20-30 grams of protein per meal, which is 60-90 grams daily for most adults. This amount helps build lean muscle without overactivating the macrophages. It hits the "Goldilocks zone"—not too much or too little.

While these findings shed light on how protein impacts disease risk, more research is needed. The team wants to run longer-term studies testing different protein amounts, which can clarify whether current protein recommendations need to be updated.

The goal is to find the best dietary balance for good health. Understanding how protein signals specific cells allows getting it right.


The Mediterranean Diet Shines

With so many diet trends falling short, seeing the Mediterranean diet consistently rank high for health is refreshing. It's not just about what's restricted but celebrated: a bounty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and the like, with a sensible fish intake and less red meat. It's the powerhouse of antioxidants, fibers, and healthy fats that champion this diet, backing it up with lower risks of major health issues and echoing the eating habits of those in famously healthy regions. It's not just a diet but a lifelong path to wellness.

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of InnerSelf.com with his wife Marie T Russell. He attended the University of Florida, Southern Technical Institute, and the University of Central Florida with studies in real estate, urban development, finance, architectural engineering, and elementary education. He was a member of the US Marine Corps and The US Army having commanded a field artillery battery in Germany. He worked in real estate finance, construction and development for 25 years before starting InnerSelf.com in 1996.

InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as InnerSelf.com. Please support our work.

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