In the realm of health and nutrition, protein supplements have long been a staple for individuals striving to meet their daily protein requirements. However, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recently released updated guidelines in 2024, urging caution and advocating for alternative dietary strategies. These guidelines mark a significant shift in the approach to protein intake, emphasizing the importance of whole foods over supplements. Let's delve into the rationale behind these guidelines and explore how individuals can adapt their dietary habits accordingly.

Protein supplements, ranging from powders to bars, have gained immense popularity in recent years, marketed as convenient solutions for meeting daily protein needs. Athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and even individuals seeking weight management have turned to these products in pursuit of their health goals. However, the proliferation of protein supplements has raised concerns regarding their safety, efficacy, and long-term impact on health.

A group of 17 comprehensive recommendations has been created by a diverse team of specialists under the guidance of Dr. Hemalatha R, Director of ICMR-NIN.

Dr. Hemalatha R, Director of ICMR-NIN, said, “These DGIs offer the most logical, sustainable, and long-term solution to all forms of malnutrition and help ensure the availability, accessibility, and affordability of nutrient-rich foods while promoting the consumption of diverse foods.”

  1. Understanding the ICMR Guidelines:

The ICMR guidelines of 2024 represent a comprehensive review of existing scientific evidence on protein supplementation. Emphasizing the principle of holistic nutrition, the guidelines advocate for prioritizing natural sources of protein within the diet. While acknowledging the potential role of supplements in specific medical conditions or dietary deficiencies, the ICMR urges caution against their indiscriminate use.

In the guidelines, ICMR also urges people to "avoid protein supplements" to build muscle mass. Prolonged consumption of protein powder in very high amounts for very long periods of time has been reported to damage bones and is linked to potential risks such as kidney damage.

Generally adults consume 60 grams to 70 grams of protein daily which is more than our requirement. According to the report, healthy men and women should get 10% to 15% of their daily energy intake from protein. According to the guidelines, for a 2000 kcal intake a day, people should eat about 250 grams of cereals, 400 grams of vegetables, 100 grams of fruits, 85 grams of pulses/eggs/flesh foods, 35 grams of nuts and seeds, and 27 grams of fat/oils, as per ICMR.

If this question comes to your mind, "Will consuming only protein help in gaining muscle mass ?" So the answer is no, consuming good quality high protein without potassium, carbohydrates and fat in the diet cannot be good for the body. Therefore, saturation with carbohydrates and fats requires amino-acid sodium chloride and adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats in the body.

Protein supplements  are made from sources such as eggs or dairy milk or whey or soybeans. Some protein powders, sold in packages as protein supplements, contain several different forms of protein combined. Protein powder may also contain additives like added sugars, non-caloric sweeteners, and artificial flavors, hence, it is not recommended to be consumed on a regular basis. Especially since whey protein is being used in large quantities these days, it is full of amino acids (BCAA). Recent evidence suggests that BCAAs may increase the risk of some non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Many athletes consume large amounts of protein, often in the form of protein powder. Protein requirements are not as high as is generally thought. In fact, research findings indicate that even among healthy adults who spend hours in the gym doing very high intensity exercise, the use of protein supplements is associated with only small increases in muscle strength and size; And while protein intake may be far in excess of the recommended amounts, athletes can still get the recommended amount of protein through food alone, even if they don't take protein supplements.. 

One of the primary motivations behind the ICMR's stance is the recognition of potential risks associated with protein supplementation. These risks include adverse effects on kidney function, gastrointestinal discomfort, and even contamination with harmful substances. Furthermore, reliance on supplements may inadvertently displace nutrient-rich whole foods from the diet, leading to imbalances and deficiencies.

Whole foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy products, nuts, and sees, offer not only protein but also a plethora of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. By prioritizing these nutrient-dense foods, individuals can not only meet their protein requirements but also promote overall health and well-being. Moreover, whole foods provide satiety and satisfaction, contributing to better appetite control and weight management.

The ICMR guidelines of 2024 signal a paradigm shift in the approach to protein intake, emphasizing the importance of whole foods over supplements. By heeding these guidelines and embracing a diet rich in natural sources of protein, individuals can not only safeguard their health but also enjoy a diverse and flavorful culinary experience. Let's bid farewell to protein powders and embrace the bounty of nutritious foods that nature has to offer.

See ICMR guidelines here

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