Short Answer: Yes
Excessive amounts of protein, via animal products, plants, or supplementation, can be harmful to your body, causing damage to your kidneys and liver.
Our bodies use protein for creating hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and for the growth and the maintenance of body tissues. So, while protein is incredibly important (or more specifically, the amino acids that make up protein), getting enough of it seems to be such a huge concern that we often eat far more protein in our diet than we actually need.
- A diet too high in protein can strain the kidneys due to an buildup of nitrogen, which is eliminated as urea in your urine. Kidney function also decreases with age, so it is especially important to monitor protein consumption as we age.
- Excess protein will also interfere with calcium metabolism, putting people with osteoporosis at higher risk of potential problems from too much protein.
- Over a long time period, high-protein diets can can also lead to an increased cancer risk, liver problems, and the worsening of coronary artery disease.
How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?
Obviously, our protein needs vary from person to person. A pregnant woman will need extra protein to build the baby’s tissues and organs; as well as will a breastfeeding woman, as she is supplying all the nourishment and nutrients for her baby. A powerlifter may also need a bit of extra protein to build muscle mass; but in general, only around 15% of our daily caloric needs should be from protein.
Daily Protein Consumption Goals
The current RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for protein, according to the US government, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram per ideal body weight. Ideal body weight is used instead of actual weight because amino acids are needed less by fat cells and required more by your lean body mass.
However, there is concern that these RDA protein standards are still higher than we actually need, which is especially concerning considering many people eat between 100 and 200 grams of protein each day.
The World Health Organization gives a much lower requirements for protein consumption; saying that 0.66 grams of protein per kilogram can be accepted as the best estimate of a population’s average requirement for healthy adults; but, in addition, that 0.83 of protein per kilogram would be expected to meet the requirements of most of the healthy adult population. These requirements increase for pregnant and lactating women.
The World Health Organization’s base recommendation is significantly lower than the US government standards, so which should we follow? First off, listen to your body; the best way to find out how you react to dietary changes is to pay attention to how your body reacts to those changes. Secondly…
As long as you don’t overeat, and about 15% of your daily calories are protein from a variety of sources, you probably don’t need to monitor exactly how many grams of protein you eat per day.
Remember, ALL food contains SOME protein, so it isn’t hard to get enough protein in your diet if you eat a variety of foods; but it is very easy to get too much protein if most of your meals are very meat heavy, you consume a lot of dairy, and/or you take protein supplements.
Monitor your protein intake for a day or two to see how much you’re actually consuming on an average day; then adjust accordingly. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal (The free version) to input what you eat in a day and it will let you know the percentage of calories that come from protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Remember, the quality of your protein is just as important as the quantity. Eat a variety of high-quality protein sources like beans, quinoa, oats, salmon, chicken, edamame, spirulina, etc to ensure that you’re getting a variety of nutrients and that you don’t put your protein consumption above where it should be.