A healthy diet should be simple right? Just fill your tummy with plenty of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, lean meat, and low fat dairy. However, a recent health trend has emerged which cuts out carbohydrates from our diet, instead replacing it with more protein. This trend stems from the media’s portrayal of protein as the golden nutrient which helps us to increase our energy and stay lean. This is in stark contrast to carbohydrates, which are associated with addiction and weight gain. Food companies have jumped onto this trend, now selling product alternatives which are low in fat and carbohydrates and high in protein. This leads to the question, can you have too much protein?
There are a wide variety of perks from eating adequate amounts of protein. Protein aids muscle growth and repair, helps us feel satiated and curbs cravings. But how much is too much? What happens to our bodies if we overconsume protein? The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.75 g/kg for adult women and 0.84 g/kg for adult men. This amount is slightly increased in special populations such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those over the age of 70. The recommended intake is very easy to achieve with a balanced diet. However, with our increased fixation on protein, many people consume well above their daily needs. Take, for example, a 65 kg female. For breakfast she may consume a protein smoothie which includes 20 g of protein powder, half a cup of yogurt which contains 10 g of protein and half a cup of skim milk which contains another 10 g of protein. The day has only just begun and she has already consumed over half her recommended daily intake of protein.
What happens to the excess protein that we consume day in and day out? Like any macronutrient we consume, protein that is not burned as energy gets stored. Thus, increasing your protein intake without increasing your overall energy expenditure may in fact cause you to gain weight. Moreover, many gym goers believe that they should increase their daily protein intake in order to increase their muscle mass. While this is true, the amount needed is increased only slightly to 2.2 g per kg of body weight. Thus, many individuals who are looking to gain muscle consume unnecessary protein in the forms of protein bars and powders.
There are many adverse consequences that result from a high protein diet, consisting of more than 30 % protein. Firstly, replacing carbohydrates with protein may lead to an inadequate intake of fibre. Low fibre intake is associated with an increased risk of bowel and colon cancer. Moreover, excess protein consumption causes the body to excrete excess calcium, leading to osteoporosis and can cause liver and kidney problems in those who are at risk, as these organs need to work extra hard to eliminate toxic protein waste products, such as urea. Therefore, like with most things in life, you can always have too much of a good thing. Save your money and your health by eating protein in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Alana Willis is passionate about all things health and nutrition. You can usually find her at the beach, with a smoothie in one hand and a good book in the other, soaking up that great Aussie sun. She is currently completing the Bachelor of Science and Master of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney and foresees herself one day running her own dietetics practice. With a major in psychology, Alana is fascinated by the relationship between food and our mental state, and how our psychology can be used to implement healthy eating behaviours.
Alana’s keen interest in health and nutrition is reflected by her writing. With her scientific background, Alana critically analyses everything she hears and reads, ensuring that her writing is current and evidence based. You can see more of her writing featured in the Dietitian Connection Newsletter and the Feel Great Challenge founded by biggest loser host, Hayley Lewis.