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Atkins diet could be as bad as smoking, study finds

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If you’re between the ages of 50 and 65, reduce the amount of animal-based proteins you eat, according to a study in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The news may be hard to swallow, but a diet heavy in meat, eggs, milk and cheese was linked to increased cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality, the study finds.

“People need to switch to a diet where only around 9 or 10 percent of their calories come from protein, and the ideal sources are plant-based,” advises Valter Longo, director of USC’s Longevity Institute.  ”We are not saying go and do some crazy diet we came up with. If we are wrong, there is no harm done, but if we are right you are looking at an incredible effect that in general is about as bad as smoking,” he tells the Guardian.

Block that metaphor, says a food nutrition scientist at Reading University in England. Gunter Kuhnle tells the Guardian it’s potentially dangerous to equate a good lunch with cigarettes.

“Sending out [press releases] such as this can damage the effectiveness of important public health messages. They can help to prevent sound health advice from getting through to the general public. The smoker thinks: ‘Why bother quitting smoking if my cheese and ham sandwich is just as bad for me?’ ”

But the study has good news if you are over 65 and beginning to lose weight. “High protein intake was associated with reduced cancer and overall mortality in respondents over 65,” the study finds.

Go figure.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University, is perplexed, too.

“I’m … puzzled by the idea that there is a significant difference between the effects of protein from animal and vegetable sources,” Nestle tells the Washington Post. “Protein is not, and never has been, an issue in American diets, and the data presented in this study do not convince me to think otherwise.”

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