Can You Get Too Much Protein?

"High Protein" is everywhere. High protein diets for losing weight. High protein diets for body builders. And, you can find high protein bars, shakes and supplements on the shelves almost everywhere you shop.

Jo, one of our Mind-full Motivator group members, asked a great question: is it possible to get too much protein? 

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram or 0.36 grams for every pound of body weight. That means a person who weighs 170 pounds needs about 61 grams of protein each day. The average American eats 15% of their calories from protein, or 75 grams in every 2000 calories. That's plenty for good health. 

Many foods contain protein, including

  • Animal protein
    • Beef, pork and chicken
      • 3 oz serving, 25 grams protein (size of a deck of cards)
    • Milk products, 1 cup
      • Milk, 8 grams
      • Plain yogurt, 11 grams
      • Plain Greek yogurt, 22 grams
      • 2 eggs, 12 grams
  • Fish
    • Salmon, tuna, cod
      • 3 oz, 19 grams 
  • Grains & Beans
    • Dried beans, cooked: 1 cup, 15 grams
    • Pasta, 1 cup, 8 grams
    • Whole grain bread, 4 grams

Healthy people can safely consume up to 20 - 25% of their calories from protein, or 100 - 125 grams in a 2000 calorie intake. Processing higher levels of protein is harder on kidney function, so diabetics and people with early stage kidney disease should limit their protein to no more than 0.8 - 1.0 g of protein per kg body weight (a 170 pound person limit is 61 - 77 grams.)

A high protein diet is often used by body builders. Some trainers even encourage use of protein supplements. Building muscle does require protein, but most Americans consume plenty to buff up those muscles! Consuming more protein than is needed does not build more muscle. It's all about the strength training. And, an overall nutritious food intake keeps every cell working at its best.

High protein weight loss diets such as the Atkins' program are still quite popular. Though short term studies have shown some positive results, long term studies do not support their use. Other studies have shown that decreasing refined, processed carbohydrates and replacing them with lean protein sources does significantly improve weight loss.

One concern of high protein consumption is the possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Fatty meats and cheeses are high in saturated fats. Higher intakes of saturated fats are known to increase LDL and total blood cholesterol, which increase the risk for heart disease. Instead, reach for very lean, trimmed meats, fish, beans,  and plenty of other vegetable proteins.

A well balanced, nutritious diet each day is critical for health. It's important to never eliminate any one food group; your body needs daily supplies of protein, fats and carbohydrates. For your health, be sure to choose lean protein sources, healthy fats and carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits every day.