This article was written by Viome, the most comprehensive gut microbiome test on the market.
First it was fat-free. Then it was low-carb. And now? High-protein. You can’t walk down a grocery-store aisle without seeing high-protein pasta, ice cream, bread, cookies, and even beer.
It’s no secret protein is important—it helps build muscle, makes you feel full, and basically keeps you alive. But it turns out not everyone should be going HAM on it (pun intended). As with most things, it all comes down to your gut health.
What does my gut have to do with it?
Before you start devouring protein powder by the bucketful, you might want to make sure your gut is up to the task. Why? Because high-protein animal foods like beef or eggs contain the C-words: choline and carnitine. Choline is a super-important nutrient that ensures cells, the brain, and the nervous system function properly, whereas carnitine helps the body produce energy.
So… what’s the problem? Well, once these guys hit the gut, certain bacteria break them down into something called trimethylamine (TMA). TMA then makes its way to the liver where it gets turned into TMAO—and that’s where things get tricky. More research is needed, but some studies have linked TMAO to a higher risk of heart and kidney disease—and possibly even type 2 diabetes.
One small study looked at 18 people—eight of which were vegetarians/vegans—and gave them daily choline supplements for two months. In both groups, TMAO levels were 10 times higher, and the participants’ blood became stickier, making it more susceptible to clotting. In other words, choline seemed to increase TMAO, which, in turn, increased the risk of blood clots.
Yikes! So should I go full-on veg head?
Before you freak out about that omelet you had this morning, know that the verdict’s still out on the exact role TMAO plays in cardiovascular disease. And not everyone agrees that choline- and carnitine-rich foods are the culprit. For example, one meta-analysis showed that eating eggs (at least one per day) actually did not increase one’s risk of heart disease.
Some researchers think it might come down to what kind of bacteria you have in your gut. You’ve probably already heard a lot about gut health and how having a diverse microbiome (i.e., digestive tract) can help with everything from digestion issues to depression to sleep. But in this case, bacteria might be part of the problem.
One study fed both meat eaters and vegans/vegetarians an 8-ounce steak and a cartine supplement then looked at their TMAO levels. Researchers found that carnivores had high amounts of TMAO, whereas their veggie counterparts didn’t. Then they had the meat eaters take antibiotics to alter their gut bacteria, and when they fed them steak again, they found way less TMAO in their blood. This suggests bacteria is a major factor in how much TMAO your body produces—and that the fewer animal products you eat, the less likely you are to have that bacteria.
So before you go Paleo or jump on the carnivore diet, you may want to check your microbiome. This is where Viome comes in. Viome is the only gut test on the market that can actually analyze the activity of your microbes. By looking at how much TMA-producing bacteria you have—and what it's doing—it can let you know how much protein your body can handle and whether you need to cut back on red meat and eggs for a while.
What else does Viome uncover? It gives you precise and personalized recommendations on all the foods you should be enjoying and all the ones you should be minimizing, plus your ideal macronutrient breakdown.
Viome's mission is to put the power back in people's hands by giving your body the resources it needs to thrive.
For a super-limited time, Greatist readers can get $100 off a Viome kit when they use code GREATIST12 at checkout.*
*Greatist receives an affiliate fee on purchases made. Offer valid through October 31, 2018, 11:59 p.m. PT.