Centre for International Health

No evidence of significant impact on body composition anthropomethic values when reducing protein intake

A study on protein intake with limiting meat and dairy consumption was conducted by Theogene Habumgisha and his team. The data show a decrease in protein intake, but there is little evidence that this has had a substantial influence on body composition or anthropometric measurements.

Portrait of Theogene Habumugisha outside of Overlege Danielsens hus
Ricky Heggheim

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Moderate or no consumption of meat and dairy products is being urged on consumers. On the other hand, there is still a debate on how much protein is consumed when meat and dairy consumption are reduced or excluded from the diets and whether the amount of consumed protein is sufficient to support a healthy life.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies looked at the effects of cutting back on meat and dairy consumption on absolute protein intake, anthropometric measurements, and body composition in individuals 45 years and older. Theogene Habumgisha, who is a PhD candidate at the Centre for International Health, together with his colleagues concluded that reducing meat and dairy consumption seems to reduce protein intake. However, there is no proof that it has any impact on body composition or other health outcomes like body weight. They also concluded that more long-term studies with controlled amounts of meat and dairy are required to evaluate the long-term impact on nutritional intake and health outcomes.

“Our research found no discernible difference in body composition and anthropometric measurement between people who consume meat and dairy products and those who do not. Although there were statistically significant effects, the numbers were so small that we cannot view them to be clinically important,” he says. 

Habumgisha and his Colleagues stressed that because the studies which they analyzed had a relatively short-term duration, the outcomes might have been different had they found and included the studies with a longer period.

"This study demonstrates the results of a four-week period. The effects could be significantly different if a person goes ten years without eating enough meat or dairy products," he says.

Decrease of muscle mass

Habumgisha also explains the importance of a study on meat and dairy consumption.

"Around the time we turn 40 to 50, our muscle mass starts to decline. Eating adequate quantity of protein and engaging in physical exercise are the only ways to slowdown the deterioration of muscle mass. Good proteins in human’s diet comes from animal-sourced foods, such as meat and dairy products. As a result, we developed a keen interest in learning how much not consuming meat and dairy consumption will affect the quantity of protein that one consume as well as body composition and anthropometry in the population who are aged above 45 years old.”

The study group analyzed the data from 19 published studies on the decline in muscle mass between participants who consumed meat and dairy products and those who did not.

“What we found is that people who completely cut off meat and dairy products from their diet will have a lower daily protein intake of around 20 grams.” He also points out that the reduction would increase if we stopped eating fish and eggs as well.

Another intriguing finding is that what people choose to replace meat also affect how much protein they ingest. 

“Legumes are high in protein, but if people who don't consume meat and dairy replace them with other plant-based food with less protein content, it's unlikely that they can satisfy the daily recommended quantity of protein.”