A higher intake of animal protein, not sugar, has been linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) in children, and an increased risk of developing diet-related illnesses such as obesity and type-2 diabetes, finds a recent study.
Published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2016, Dutch researchers found that children who consumed greater amounts of protein were physically larger than those who did not consume as much protein, specifically animal-based protein sources.
The researchers studied the eating habits of more than 3,500 children, calculating total protein intake and sources. The subjects were monitored from the ages of one to ten, and data were adjusted to account for maternal age, education, ethnicity, and other factors, including whether or not the children had been breastfed.
And while higher protein intake, even from non-animal sources, led to the greater BMIs, the correlation between animal sources was strongest.
“Our results suggest that high protein intake, particularly from animal food sources, in early childhood is associated with higher body fat mass, but not fat-free mass,” the team noted at the recent Congress on Obesity in Portugal.
The authors concluded that a reduction in protein in intake in infancy and early childhood “may thus be advised to prevent obesity.”
While the researchers could not conclude what the “optimal” protein consumption levels are for children, the research does point to the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Late last year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest group of nutritionists in the U.S., gave its support of the vegan diet, calling it “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle.”
Another recent study found that the body does not distinguish between animal and non-animal protein when building muscle. All that mattered was the amount consumed.