The latest nutritional fad seems to be to ingest more and more protein. We see it everywhere- this snack is “Packed with Protein”, and “make sure to get enough protein at every meal”. I hear it all the time at the gym… “What kind of protein powder do you use in your shakes”. I also see guys add 3 scoops of protein powder to their shaker bottle at 30 grams of protein per scoop- which equals 90 grams of protein in one “recovery shake”.
Most research studies state that the human body can only process between 25 and 35 grams of protein at one time, so ingesting more than that at any one time and your body may not be able to absorb it all.
Getting too much protein, especially long-term, can even lead to dangerous side effects and may cause health problems. The 2006 review in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” reports that excess protein can exceed your liver’s ability to properly break down and excrete the protein, which can lead to toxin buildup in your blood or even death. A study published in 2012 in the “American Journal of Kidney Disease” found that following a high-protein diet over the long term may lead to kidney disease.
The use of protein powders is a relatively new dietary staple for many people. The real question should be:
How Much Protein Do We Really Need?
I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times that specifically addresses this question.
“The recommended intake for a healthy adult is 46 grams of protein a day for women and 56 grams for men. And while protein malnutrition is a problem for millions of people around the globe, for the average adult in developed countries, we are eating far more protein than we actually need.
Most American adults eat about 100 grams of protein per day, or roughly twice the recommended amount. Even on a vegan diet people can easily get 60 to 80 grams of protein throughout the day from foods like beans, legumes, nuts, broccoli and whole grains.
The Hartman Group, a consumer research firm that has been conducting a study of American food culture over the past 25 years and counting, has found that nearly 60 percent of Americans are now actively trying to increase their protein intake. Many are avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates and turning to protein-rich foods, snacks and supplements. The firm calls protein “the new low-fat” or “the new low-carb,” even “the new everything when it comes to diet and energy.”
“Soccer moms feel they can’t be anywhere without protein,” says Melissa Abbott, the firm’s vice president for culinary insights. “Really it’s that we’ve been eating so many highly processed carbs for so long. Now it’s like you try nuts, or you try an egg again, or fat even” to feel full and help you “get through the day.”
In her research, Ms. Abbott said she always seems to be finding beef jerky in gym bags and purses, and protein bars in laptop bags or glove compartments. Many consumers, she notes, say they are afraid that without enough protein they will “crash,” similar to the fear of crashing, or “bonking,” among those who are elite athletes.
But most of us are getting more than enough protein. And few seem to be aware that there may be long term risks of consuming too much protein, including a potential increased risk of kidney damage.
If you want to learn more, I highly recommend reading this article from the New York Times “Can you Get Too Much Protein?”
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