Dietary recommendations are fairly straightforward, but nobody’s perfect. Even if you eat the right amount of calories, you might really struggle to eat less fat, or consume more vegetables. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not uncommon to take recommendations — like getting enough protein — too far.
Are you eating too much of it? Here’s how you’ll know — and how to make sure you’re getting enough without overdoing it.
What does protein do?
You often hear that getting enough protein can make or break your health — but why is that? According to MedlinePlus, including this macronutrient in your diet aids in cell repair and replacement. This is one reason why working out to lose weight, without getting enough protein from food, can result in injury and muscle loss.
Your body also needs amino acids to function properly. Protein breaks down into amino acids during digestion, which is why you literally couldn’t survive without eating meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or certain plants.
You can get it from both animals and plants
When you think of protein, you probably immediately picture hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken. However, meat isn’t the only healthy source you can incorporate into your diet.
You can also find it in a variety of vegetables, like spinach and sweet potatoes. Nuts, beans, and even whole grains like brown rice and quinoa act as valuable food sources for those trying to cut back on their meat consumption.
Too many people think more is better
Protein is a big topic in the fitness realm. Athletes obsess over powders and shakes, and making sure their meals and snacks pack on as much as possible.
The truth is, more of this nutrient doesn’t necessarily promote more muscle growth, Live Science says. After a certain point, honestly, it stops making a difference. It usually doesn’t hurt to slightly increase your protein intake, but too much could hurt you.
How does your risk for disease change when your diet does?
It would take a lot of protein per day, many days in a row, to really do long-lasting damage to your body. However, it is possible. And the risks might depend on the type you’re eating.
One study found that adults who ate high amounts of meat and dairy were more likely to develop chronic diseases like cancer and die sooner. This could indicate that it’s just as important to eat a variety of protein sources, like both plants and animals, to reap the many benefits of a protein rich diet.
If you’re not losing weight, maybe it’s a protein problem
If you’re gaining weight without trying — or you’re trying to lose it, but can’t — you might be eating too much protein.
According to Healthline, some of the foods most often recommended for weight gain also happen to include large amounts of protein. This might be OK if you’re trying to gain weight on purpose, but even though it can help curb your appetite, too many calories from protein can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Decreased body temperature or headaches
The liver is responsible for maintaining an equilibrium of nitrogen in the body, and it has to work even harder to maintain this balance when protein is digested. “If this balance is off, the body may become overly acidic,” according to LIVESTRONG. “Some symptoms of an acidic body include decreased body temperature, headaches, paleness, inflamed eyelids and cornea, mouth ulcers and acid regurgitation.”
Issues with your kidneys could be another important sign you’re getting too much protein. “For your body to break down protein, your kidneys are put to work — and too much of it can lead to kidney strain,” said David Greuner, MD, FASC, FICS. “Generally, this is not an issue but people with risk of kidney disease should moderate protein intake. Also, excess protein can lead to calcium depletion, which can lead to kidney stones and/or osteoporosis.”
This is another serious sign that your diet has too much protein in it. According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Diets that are rich in animal protein cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their kidneys and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Countries with lower-protein diets have lower rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures.”
How much protein do you need to eat per day?
If it’s possible to eat too much protein, is there a set amount you need to eat every day? The average person needs 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.
If you weigh 160 pounds, for example, you should try to eat about 58 grams per day. However, you should always spread your intake throughout all your meals and snacks, instead of eating an entire plate of grilled chicken for dinner to meet your quota for the day.
Here are the best sources of protein for everyone
If you eat meat, chicken, turkey, tuna, and salmon all provide substantial amounts per serving.
If you don’t eat meat, but you still eat dairy, both eggs and cheese, all these serve as great additions to meals and snacks to pack on more protein per day without overdoing it.
You could also eat plants, everything from spinach to sweet potatoes to nuts and seeds.
If you work out, always make sure to snack on something protein-rich afterward, like Greek yogurt or peanut butter, if you’re trying to build muscle.
All these foods are easy to eat in small amounts. Remember, sometimes it’s not the food itself that causes weight gain, but the amount of food you’re putting on your plate. Always grab less than you think you’ll want to eat, so there’s less pressure to clear your plate even when you’re full.