Is dairy protein healthier than red meat?

University of Adelaide PhD student Damien Belobrajdic with a sample of dairy protein.

University of Adelaide PhD student Damien Belobrajdic with a sample of dairy protein.
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Friday, 18 October 2002

NEW research from the University of Adelaide suggests that dairy products could be a healthier source of protein than red meat.

According to the research, protein-rich dairy products could be more effective in weight loss programs and provide better protection against colon cancer.

The research is being conducted by University of Adelaide Department of Physiology PhD student Damien Belobrajdic at the CSIRO's Division of Health Sciences and Nutrition.

He compared two key sources of protein, red meat and dairy, by feeding kangaroo meat and whey to laboratory rats. He found rats administered with a carcinogen and fed red meat-based diets had significantly more pre-cancerous growths on their colon tissue than rats fed with whey, irrespective of the protein content of the diet.

Mr Belobrajdic is quick to point out that there was no increased risk of cancer from high intakes of kangaroo meat. However, early indications are that whey can provide some protection against colon cancer while at the same time being a good source of protein.

"This could have implications for the amount of whey used in cheese, or for other dairy foods that are high in protein or used as a protein source in processed foods," Mr Belobrajdic says. "They could prove to be a good source of protein and provide reduced risk to colon cancer, which is a major health problem in Australians."

His other study looked at claims that high-protein diets could reduce weight gain and lead to other benefits, such as increased sensitivity to insulin -- an important issue for people at risk of maturity-onset diabetes. His studies showed that a high whey protein, high fat diet was effective in helping rats avoid fat deposition, while the rats that were fed a high kangaroo meat, high fat diet actively gained weight. The rats fed on whey were also more sensitive to insulin.

"The early indications from these results are that high-protein diets alone may not improve weight maintenance -- in fact, a diet of high- protein red meat resulted in an increase in weight," Mr Belobrajdic says. "By contrast, dairy protein was clearly effective in reducing fat deposition."

He said his results should not be taken as a message for people to cut red meat out of their diets. "These results have been very illuminating and will hopefully form the basis for further studies," he says.

Mr Belobrajdic's research is funded by the Dairy Research and Development Corporation (DRDC). His supervisors are Professor Julie Owens, Head of the Department of Physiology at the University of Adelaide, and Dr Graeme McIntosh from the CSIRO Division of Health Sciences and Nutrition.


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Damien Belobrajdic
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Dr Graeme McIntosh
CSIRO Division of Health Sciences and Nutrition
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