Do High-Protein Diets Damage Your Arteries?

A new study suggests eating too much protein can cause cardiovascular disease. But a closer look reveals that's not what was found....

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Today’s Health Upgrade

  • Do high-protein diets cause cardiovascular damage?

  • Big biceps, bigger brain

  • Why bread is healthier than you think

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Will Too Much Protein Damage Your Arteries?

We frequently discuss the many benefits of protein, but can too much be bad? A recent article suggests that eating more than 22 percent of your calories from protein will damage your arteries. It definitely got our attention, and what we found is worthy of your attention. 

Despite the headlines, the new study did not show that eating more protein will cause cardiovascular disease. And it didn’t prove anything close to what created so much stress and attention.

As it happens too often, the headlines were a stretch of reality. The claims were based on a study examining mice with a genetic predisposition to developing atherosclerosis. They discovered too much protein overactivated a potential pathway linked to arterial health. This might explain why these mice with a genetic predisposition end up with cardiovascular disease.

To be clear, scientists don’t know if this mechanism is the cause of cardiovascular disease; it’s just a theory. More importantly, the study did not prove protein was the cause of cardiovascular events in humans. It just found one variable that could be linked to arterial issues in mice. That’s it. 

The follow-up study had humans drink a high-protein or low-protein meal to see what happens. The higher protein meal activated the biomarker that might affect immune system function in mice. And that’s all it took for articles to claim that high-protein diets cause heart disease, even though we don’t even know if the same pathway is connected to cardiovascular problems in humans.

That’s not to say new findings can’t make us rethink what we used to know, but it is to say findings must be far more conclusive than a hypothetical before rushing to judgment.

Big Biceps, Bigger Brain

It might be time for meatheads to start cashing receipts on decades of criticism about their intelligence. 

That’s because recent research suggests people who exercise more might have bigger brains. 

Scientists found that consistent workouts were linked to more brain volume, gray matter density, and increased cortical thickness. In other words, training can help with overall cognition and processing. The study suggests that higher-intensity exercise tends to provide more brain-boosting benefits. 

But it’s not just a matter of intelligence. Research suggests that neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia are linked to atrophy in parts of your brain that are protected by exercise. 

In the most recent study, scientists theorize brain growth is the byproduct of upgraded mitochondrial function. Your mitochondria are the power plants of cellular function; they need improved blood flow and oxygen. That’s why both cardio and weight training appear to help protect regions of your brain. 

While more research is needed to understand the connection, it’s not the first time exercise has been connected to improved brain health. Intensity is key, but that doesn’t mean training every day of the week (that’s why all Pump app workouts are designed around research and Arnold’s principles). And you don’t need to invest too much time training to experience the benefits. Research suggests that little bits of movement — like a 15-minute walk — can also help protect your brain. 

Why Bread Is Healthier Than You Think

Outside of sugar, few foods have been connected to weight gain more than carbs and — more specifically — bread. But, it might be an unearned reputation. 

Research suggests that people who eat the most whole-grain bread are less likely to be overweight. 

It’s the type of science that makes you stop and scratch your head, but the data was based on 45 studies assessing whole grain intake. The scientists found that people who ate six slices or more daily of whole grain, high-fiber bread were more likely to maintain a healthy body weight. 

Eating more fiber helps improve your diet and supports fat loss and maintenance (remember, tool #2 is protein and fiber). But you might be thinking, “What about white bread?” Even then, the research isn’t that convincing. The problem is that bread is often lumped with other “refined carbohydrates,” such as cookies, cake, and soda. When you remove those variables, some research suggests that eating white bread is not associated with weight gain, and in some situations, those who eat bread (including white bread options) are less likely to gain weight. 

That’s not to say we’re suggesting white bread — you should still focus on high-fiber options. But if you have it occasionally, there’s likely no need to stress.

Sandwiches can be a part of any nutrition plan if you build them correctly. And that starts with selecting the right type of bread that’s loaded with more fiber and is less processed. 

Research suggests that your best bet is to buy bread with a carb-to-fiber ratio lower than 10:1. For every 20 grams of carbs, you need at least 2 grams of fiber. But at The Pump Club, we also know that people tend to undereat fiber. We recommend looking for bread with at least 4 grams of fiber per slice.

Publisher: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Editors-in-chief: Adam Bornstein and Daniel Ketchell