Our diet requires a few simple things: Fat, carbohydrates and protein. In a perfect balance you’ll feel great, energized and receive all the essential vitamins and minerals. But when we don’t eat in balance, having too much protein for example, is when our bodies can go awry.
Protein, found in many food groups and high in meat, is essential for our body to function. Protein is what builds and repairs muscles and cells and can prevent some illnesses. It’s definitely something we should be consuming, but are we consuming too much? Are we a population of meat and potato eaters over-indulging in protein?
Well, research says we are and it can have some detrimental effects on our health.
Current recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protein are 56 grams a day for men and 46 grams a day for women. With the rise in high-protein diets as a means for weight loss, the scary truth is that as a population we are having too much protein and it’s leading to side effects.
How much protein is in your food?
To check if you’re having the right amount of protein, or too much, here are some common food items we enjoy and their protein amounts:
- Skinless chicken breast – 20 g of protein
- 1 cup of skim milk – 8 g of protein
- 1 large egg – 6 g of protein
- 22 almonds – 6 grams of protein
- 3 ounces of flank steak – 24 g of protein
- Cheddar cheese – 7 g of protein
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter – 4 g of protein
Did you see any food items on this list that you eat regularly? These numbers can quickly add up, even by increasing the portion size. When you’re having a steak, you likely aren’t weighing out three ounces and so you’re almost at the brink of your daily intake with that alone!
Now that we know how easy it is to overeat protein, let’s look at some of the symptoms of too much protein.
Harmful side effects of too much protein
Eating too much protein is bad for your health. How bad exactly? Well, the following are signs, symptoms and side effects of too much protein:
1. Weight gain: Maybe you embarked on a high-protein diet because you felt it would make you lose weight. Sorry to break it to you, but the opposite can occur. Too much protein can lead to weight gain because protein can add additional calories. A typical American diet is already high in calories and so you may find that you’re putting on the pounds instead of dropping them. If you think that just by increasing the amount of protein you eat can aid in weight loss, you’d be mistaken. You would have to cut out fat and carbs from other areas to simply compensate for the added calories.
2. Cholesterol: Because most foods that are high in protein come from an animal, you can also develop high cholesterol as well. Although dietary cholesterol isn’t the villain it once was considered, you still don’t want to overdo it. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institutes suggests no more than 200 mg of added cholesterol a day. A meal example would look like this: Six-ounce steak has 126 mg of cholesterol and a roasted chicken breast has 83 mg of cholesterol. As you can see, going overboard is easy.
3. Dehydration: Another symptom of too much protein is dehydration. Because the kidneys have more waste to flush out, more fluid is required, putting you at risk of dehydration.
4. Kidney problems: Everything filters through your kidneys, and protein can be quite taxing. This added strain to break down the protein can lead to kidney problems. Your doctor may find this problem by noticing too much protein in your urine. Additionally, if you already have pre-existing kidney problems, you may want to limit your protein to avoid complications.
5. Nutrient deficiency: If you’re solely focusing on increasing protein, you may be lacking in enjoying other food groups which provide other essential nutrients and vitamins the body needs. This may lead to digestive issues such as constipation if you’re not getting enough fiber.
6. Heart problems: Because protein from animal sources have its own levels of saturated fats, Harvard School of Public Health suggests this can lead to heart problems if consumed over a long period of time. On the other hand, protein from vegetable sources in high amounts can be beneficial to the heart.
7. Gout: Most commonly found around the big toe, gout is characterized by intense pain, redness and tenderness of the joints. A high risk factor for developing gout is a diet high in protein because it promotes uric acid which increases the risk.
Everything in moderation for good health
Protein is important, that much we know, but like everything else we enjoy, it should be taken in moderation. Because of the impact on our health, it’s important to moderate how much protein you’re eating and balancing it with plant-based forms as well. Unless you’re concerned about not getting enough protein, you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to add more into your diet.
Too much protein is something to be concerned about, so following the recommended allowance is a good start to keeping yourself healthy. Protein can be found in just about any food we eat, so know that it can quickly add up. Switch out some of your meats with protein through plant sources like beans, nuts and quinoa to give your body added benefits – and put less of a strain on your kidneys.