Background: Previous studies suggest that dietary protein might play a beneficial role in combating obesity and its related chronic diseases. Total, animal and plant protein intakes and their associations with anthropometry and serum biomarkers in European adolescents using one standardised methodology across European countries are not well documented.
Objectives: To evaluate total, animal and plant protein intakes in European adolescents stratified by gender and age, and to investigate their associations with cardio-metabolic indicators (anthropometry and biomarkers).
Methods: The current analysis included 1804 randomly selected adolescents participating in the HELENA study (conducted in 2006-2007) aged 12.5-17.5 y (47% males) who completed two non-consecutive computerised 24-h dietary recalls. Associations between animal and plant protein intakes, and anthropometry and serum biomarkers were examined with General linear Model multivariate analysis.
Results: Average total protein intake exceeded the recommendations of World Health Organization and European Food Safety Authority. Mean total protein intake was 96 g/d (59% derived from animal protein). Total, animal and plant protein intakes (g/d) were significantly lower in females than in males and total and plant protein intakes were lower in younger participants (12.5-14.9 y). Protein intake was significantly lower in underweight subjects and higher in obese ones; the direction of the relationship was reversed after adjustments for body weight (g/(kg.d)). The inverse association of plant protein intakes was stronger with BMI z-score and body fat percentage (BF%) compared to animal protein intakes. Additionally, BMI and BF% were positively associated with energy percentage of animal protein.
Conclusions: This sample of European adolescents appeared to have adequate total protein intake. Our findings suggest that plant protein intakes may play a role in preventing obesity among European adolescents. Further longitudinal studies are needed to investigate the potential beneficial effects observed in this study in the prevention of obesity and related chronic diseases.