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Will a high-protein diet send you to an early grave?

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 4:06pm  ET

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A recent study claimed a protein-packed diet is just as bad as smoking. The news left many people asking, 'Now what?' Josef Brandenburg offers advice. (Photo by Matt Peyton/Invision for Kingsford/AP Images)

By Josef Brandenburg
WTOP Fitness Contributor

WASHINGTON - We're in the midst of a protein Paleo panic. A recent study made headlines when it claimed that eating high levels of protein can be as bad for you as smoking.

Since the study's publication, many people have started to question their protein-rich daily diets that have helped them lose weight and lower their blood pressure.

What does this news mean?

Will your diet actually kill you?

The answer is yes. Every kind of diet -- vegan, low-carb, low-fat, Paleo, etc. -- will lead to your eventual death. Everyone on every diet eventually dies; there's a 100 percent correlation. But correlation is not causation. Just because two things happen at the same time does not mean that one causes the other.

Here's the most important thing you should know about what the researchers actually found: "We found no association between protein consumption and either all-cause, CVD [cardiovascular disease], or cancer mortality." This quote is from the very same paper the "protein will kill you" headlines reference.

Is too much protein bad for you?

The answer is in the question: Too much of anything is too much, and therefore not good for you. This includes water.

How much protein should I be eating?

If you Google this question a wide range of answers appear. The "protein is the new smoking" articles would have you believe that protein must be less than 10 percent of your diet.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can find sites telling you to eat 300 grams per day. Where should your numbers be?

Here's a little quiz to help: Do you weigh your food on a digital scale before you eat it? Do you know the exact grams of protein and the exact number of calories that you eat on a given day, based your meticulous data from your digital scale?

If you answered "no" to any of the above, then an exact number is of no use to you.

I used to give protein intake guidelines from nutrition textbooks, but then I realized that this was useless advice for all of the busy professionals and parents taking my suggestions. Normal people don't want to weigh every meal they eat and check it against a calculator before they take the first bite.

With that said, here are practical guidelines for getting enough protein (and also not too much):

  1. Eat about three times per day, and not much more. Read about the health benefits of nixing the multiple meals.

  2. Eat real food. Get your protein from minimally-processed food. Eat eggs, not just the whites -- you need the yolks for nutrition and to feel full. Go easy on the protein powder and stick to food (beef, salmon, etc.) most of the time.

  3. Have an appropriate serving: For most women it's about a fist, and for most men it's about two fists. If you only eat two times a day, then have larger servings.

With these tips, chances are you will get just the right amount of protein needed to fit your lifestyle.

Editor's Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.-area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

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