The Wrong Amount of Protein to Eat Every Day, Says Dietitian
From keto to paleo, high-protein diets are having a major moment. While the thought of enjoying your favorite filling foods and still losing weight may be appealing, it's easy to overdo it when it comes to your protein intake. According to experts, there's a pretty definitive line when it comes to how much daily protein you should be eating—and surpassing that can cause some pretty serious side effects.
According to the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) established by the Institute of Medicine, the average adult should consume approximately 50 grams of protein per day if they're eating a 2,000-calorie diet. For the average person reading this, if you're consuming more than that recommendation, you're consuming the wrong amount of protein—too much of it. (Related: 7 Ways Eating Too Much Protein Can Harm Your Health.)
Tina Marinaccio, MS, RD, CPT, an integrative culinary registered dietitian nutritionist with Health Dynamics, LLC, explains that, for people with an average level of physical activity, this translates to approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For those who are very physically active, up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight may be required to support their lean body mass.
However, exceeding this amount can lead to serious consequences for a person's health.
"Excess protein can mean excess calories and cause weight gain, plus increase risk for kidney stones," explains Marinaccio, who says that people who consume excessive amounts of protein may also inadvertently reduce the amount of vegetables they're eating, causing them to miss out on essential nutrients.
Marinaccio cautions that many people may accidentally exceed their RDA of protein, even if they're not strictly following a high-protein diet.
"When calculating protein grams, we often think of meat, fish, poultry, and beans, but it's important to consider that grains have 3 grams per serving, and vegetables have 2 grams per serving, so most people who eat a balanced diet are getting enough protein," Marinaccio explains, noting that people with certain conditions, including kidney disease, may need to follow stricter guidelines when it comes to their protein intake.
That said, there are some notable exceptions to this rule, and some people may benefit from consuming more protein than the recommended limit.
"Higher protein intakes may be important for women as they age to maintain bone density," says Marinaccio, citing a 2003 clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that women between 66 and 77 who consumed the highest amount of protein—approximately 72 grams a day—and also consumed significant calcium had higher baseline bone mineral density than those who consumed less protein.
And while you can definitely have too much of a good thing when it comes to your protein intake, you shouldn't significantly decrease the amount of protein you're consuming without good reason, either.
"Too little protein intake can result in side effects such as fatigue, decreased immunity, reduction in lean body/muscle tissue mass, and weakening of the heart and respiratory system," says Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSSD, a nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best.
While sticking to the RDA of protein may work for most people, if you're concerned you're getting too much or too little protein in your diet—or if your health or activity level has recently changed—contact a medical professional to see exactly how much daily protein is right for you. And speaking of protein, why not start your day off right with any of these 19 High Protein Breakfasts That Keep You Full?
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