Our is diet killing you

That cheeseburger may be the death of you -- and I'm not kidding.

Too much meat, cheese and other unhealthy high protein foods in middle age can quadruple your risk of death from cancer, according to a major new study.

That makes a Dairy Queen habit as bad for your health as smoking, and the risks don't end with cancer.

If you get 20 percent of your diet from animal protein and high protein foods, you could also face four times the risk of death from diabetes and double the risk of an early death from any cause, according to the new study in Cell Metabolism.

Cutting protein in your diet down to 10 percent or less, on the other hand, will cut your risk death from any cause in half and death from cancer by 25 percent.

Surprised? Don't be.

Part of the reason is likely in your hormones, specifically a hormone known as insulin growth factor-1, or IGF-1.

When you're young and growing, you need plenty of it. But as you get older, you need less. In fact, as you get older, too much IGF-1 can hurt you.

This shouldn't be a problem because of the ingenious way in which we've been designed: Your body naturally produces plenty of IGF-1 when you are young and need the stuff, and much less as you age.

But bad habits can disrupt this natural process, especially the bad habits of the modern junk-food diet, which can cause your IGF-1 factory to start pumping out hormones overtime just when production should be tailing off.

Of course, that's one reason -- but I don't believe it's the only reason.

Not all high protein foods are unhealthy, but people who eat the most animal proteins tend to be people who aren't making healthy choices. They're eating cheeseburgers and drinking milkshakes.

Eat quality proteins such as fish, lean meats and poultry, and I'm sure crossing the 10 percent threshold won't hurt you.

If there's one upside to the study, it's that it also finds that higher levels of protein can actually help extend lives in seniors.

This may be in part because seniors are so low in IGF-1 that even a bump in production from protein won't hurt. And it may also be because seniors tend to lose muscle mass as they age and a diet too low in protein can accelerate that process.

Loss of muscle leads to weakness, loss of balance, falls, breaks, loss of independence and a higher risk of an early death.

Healthy proteins (and amino acids) can support your muscle so you stay strong.

In other words, don't celebrate your 65th birthday under the Golden Arches. Instead, continue to make sure your proteins are quality proteins, and limit your red meat intake.

For a balanced diet with just the right amount of healthy proteins at every age, I recommend a Mediterranean lifestyle rich in lean meats, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds and all the fresh produce you care to enjoy.

This diet has been proven to cut the risk of cancer and diabetes. (Yes, precisely the diseases that a diet too high in protein can cause.)

For more on the many benefits of going Mediterranean, read this free report in my House Calls archives.