So here’s the bad news about meat and cheese

A study says that eating a lot of animal protein in middle age increases risk of dying earlier.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A new study links eating too much meat and cheese to increased risk of early death in middle-aged adults. If you’re over 50, your favorite deli sandwich might be a time bomb.

Published this week in Cell Metabolism, a study of 6,318 people in the U.S. between 50 and 65 years old with diets high in animal protein showed that they were 74% more likely to die earlier than those who consumed less animal protein or non-animal protein.

The risk of dying from cancer was four times higher, and the risk of dying of diabetes was several times higher. Researchers said that the mortality risk rate is comparable to smoking. But the good news is that eating proteins from plants such as beans and nuts seemed to help reverse the adverse effects. (Note: The study didn’t differentiate between groups of animal proteins, such as yogurt versus salami.)

“The majority of Americans are eating about twice as much protein as they should, and it seems that the best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins but especially animal-derived proteins,” author Valter Longo, the Edna M. Jones Professor of Biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute, said in a news release. “But don’t get extreme in cutting out protein; you can go from protected to malnourished very quickly.”


The main message is to eat protein moderately and try as much as possible to have those proteins come from plant-based products, said Longo.

And what’s good or bad for you at one age may be damaging or beneficial at another, researchers said. The growth hormone IGF-I, which is stimulated by protein, helps our bodies grow but also has been linked to cancer susceptibility. Levels of IGF-I plummet after age 65, which can lead to frailty and muscle loss.

The study shows that while eating a lot of protein during middle age is very harmful, it is protective for older adults: People older than 65 who ate a moderate- or high-protein diet were less susceptible to disease. That’s something to look forward to. Hello, senior discounts and ham and cheese sandwiches.


Can we save the bluefin tuna?

Ellen DeGeneres in your salami?

Arby’s buys Pharrell’s hat for $44,000