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ICMR Recommends Avoiding Protein Supplements

The new dietary guidelines have been issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), advising against the use of protein supplements. Here’s why.

Sarbani Bhattacharjee
Why ICMR Recommends Avoiding Protein Supplements (This image has been created with MidJourney)
Why ICMR Recommends Avoiding Protein Supplements (This image has been created with MidJourney)

ICMR has issued evidence-based recommendations and guidelines to prevent nutrient deficiencies and address the growing issues of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases in India. The need for protein supplements has been specifically called out as unnecessary for healthy individuals.

Protein Requirements and Dietary Sources

A protein intake recommendation of 0.83g/kg/day has been made by the new guidelines, while the estimated average intake is 0.66g/kg/day. It has been noted that a healthy and balanced diet is sufficient to meet the protein requirements of all individuals. Foods such as legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs, poultry, and fish can effectively fulfil protein needs. Combining cereals with pulses in a 3:1 ratio will also meet the body's amino acid requirements.

Harmful Effects of Protein Supplements

The use of protein supplements, which often contain added sugars, non-caloric sweeteners, and artificial flavouring, has been discouraged. It has been explained that these additives defeat the purpose of a balanced diet and can cause harm to the kidneys and bones. Protein powders, typically made from eggs, dairy, whey, or plant sources like soy, peas, and rice, may contribute to health issues rather than prevent them.

Protein Supplements and Non-Communicable Diseases

Recent evidence has shown that whey protein, rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), may increase the risk of certain non-communicable diseases (NCDs). It has been highlighted by ICMR that BCAAs, present in many protein powders, could pose health risks.

Athletes and Protein Needs

It has been recommended that athletes can obtain the necessary amount of protein from food alone without relying on supplements. Contrary to popular belief, protein requirements for athletes are not as high as commonly perceived. The research resulted in indicating that dietary protein supplements are associated with only a meager increase in muscle vitality and size. This happens during prolonged resistance exercise training (RET) in healthy adults. Additionally, protein intake levels greater than 1.6g/kg/day do not contribute further to RET-induced gains in muscle mass.

The guidelines emphasize that protein supplements are not recommended for normal, healthy people. Critically ill or hospitalized patients may require protein supplements, which should be administered and monitored by clinical professionals.

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