The smoothie ingredient that could make you gain weight, spoil your mood, and shorten your life

Most of us don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit, whole grains or fiber. But there’s one nutrient we’re doing okay on — protein.

Whether you get yours from tofu and tempeh, eggs and fish, or burgers and steaks, chances are, you’re meeting the recommended daily allowance for protein (it’s an easily achievable 0.36 grams per pound of body weight). And that’s good, because protein is essential to optimum health.

In fact, the more we learn about protein’s benefits, the more popular protein becomes. High protein diets like the ketogenic diet and paleo diet are trendy as ever. And protein supplements have been flying off health food store shelves for years… for good reason…

A scoop of protein powder in your morning smoothie promises to keep you toned, energized and less sore after your daily workouts.

Unfortunately, protein powders aren’t always as healthy as they seem. In fact, new research shows that one popular protein powder ingredient could make you heavier, crankier and shorten your lifespan if you use it too much.

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BCAAs could block this important mood, sleep and metabolism brain chemical

If you’re a health and exercise buff, you’ve probably heard of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). They’re a popular ingredient in protein powders.

These amino acids come from high-protein foods like eggs, meat and dairy, and many people use them to build muscle, improve muscle recovery after workouts and reduce post-workout fatigue. But here’s the problem…

A new study from researchers at the University of Sydney shows they may have negative side effects when overused. These researchers tested BCAA supplements on mice, and here’s what they found…

The supplements led to high blood levels of the BCAA amino acids. The BCAAs in the blood competed with another amino acid, tryptophan, for transport into the brain. Tryptophan is the precursor for the brain chemical serotonin, which controls your mood. In fact, serotonin is known as the “happiness chemical” because it lifts your mood. It also promotes healthy sleep.

So, if BCAAs are preventing your brain from receiving enough tryptophan, they could reduce your serotonin levels, and ultimately worsen your mood and sleep. But that’s not all…

Related: 3 toxic ingredients lurking in your protein powder

Low serotonin levels increase your appetite. In fact, mice who received excessive amounts of BCAAs started overeating and became obese. As a result, their lifespan was shorter. Ummm… no thanks to all the above.

Don’t banish BCAAs from your diet

Before you dump out your BCAA protein powder, there’s something to consider…

You don’t want to cut out BCAAs completely. They’re essential amino acids that your body needs. Plus, they’re found naturally in many healthy, protein-rich foods that you eat every day. So, it would be nearly impossible to cut them out anyway.

This study is just a reminder that you can have too much of a good thing. A healthy diet is a balanced diet that includes diverse sources of all nutrients — including protein.

BCAA supplements can be a part of your overall protein mix. Just don’t overdo it. Research shows taking 15-35 grams of BCAAs per day is generally safe for most people.

Of course, it’s also easy to get enough BCAAs from food alone. And this approach makes it much less likely that you’ll go overboard. The top food sources of BCAAs are:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beans and lentils
  • Milk
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts

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Sources:

  1. Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day? — Healthline
  2. Put down the protein shake: Variety of protein better for health — MedicalXpress
  3. Branched-chain amino acids impact health and lifespan indirectly via amino acid balance and appetite controlNature Metabolism
  4. How much protein do you need every day? — Harvard Health Publishing
  5. BCAA Benefits: A Review of Branched-Chain Amino Acids — Healthline

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.