Protein and its array of amino acids are the primary building blocks of your muscles, bones, enzymes and many hormones. You simply cannot live without protein. For this reason, many people now believe that protein should be the bulk of their diet, and are even switching to “high-protein” diets.
But can you eat too much protein?
The answer is a resounding definitive yes.
The Cons of Excessive Protein Intake
There is an upper limit to how much protein your body can use, and if you do not regularly stay within this limit, it will spell trouble for your health.
Most Americans today are consuming far more protein than they need, along with excessive non-fiber carbohydrates and not enough healthy fats. This can hinder your health and fitness goals by elevating blood glucose levels, promoting weight gain, storing extra body fat, stressing your kidneys, leaching important bone minerals, and even causing dehydration.
Excessive protein intake can also stimulate the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), an important biochemical pathway that plays a critical role in stimulating cancers. As long as you keep your protein intake at an adequate level to meet your body’s needs without consuming an excess, the mTOR pathway is inhibited, which then minimizes your risk of cancer growth.
Why a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet Can Wreak Havoc on Your Health
The first step in ensuring sufficient protein intake is to get it from a mixture of plant and animal sources. This is why I do not recommend following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, because eliminating all animal foods from your diet puts you at risk of nutrient deficiencies, as there are some nutrients that simply cannot be obtained from plant foods.
Research found that eating a strictly plant-based diet can put you at risk of subclinical protein malnutrition, which means you're also likely not getting enough dietary sulfur. You may become deficient in omega-3s, which is best obtained from meats and other animal protein sources, as well.
Another essential nutrient that you may miss out on if you consume a vegetarian or vegan diet is conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which has been linked to long-term weight management and health. So if you insist on following a strict plant-based diet, I advise you to be mindful of consuming these nutrients, which you can get in supplement form:
What’s Your Ideal Daily Protein Requirement?
So how much protein do you actually need? To determine that, you’ll need to know your lean body mass (see below).
You likely need about one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
This amounts to 30 to 70 grams of protein a day, spread out throughout the day. If you’re aggressively exercising or competing, or pregnant (or lactating), your daily protein requirement may be 25 to 50 percent higher.
To calculate your lean body mass, subtract your percent body fat from 100. So if you have 20 percent body fat, then you have 80 percent lean body mass. Then multiply that percentage (in this case, 0.8) by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds. So, in this example, if you weighed 160 pounds, multiply that amount by 0.8 (representing 80 percent) which leaves you with 128 pounds of lean body mass. Following the "one-half gram of protein per pound" rule, you would need about 64 grams of protein per day.
Thirty to 70 grams of protein is not a large amount of food. This can be as little as two small hamburger patties or a six-ounce chicken breast. I recommend that you write down everything you eat for a few days, along with the weight in grams and then calculate the amount of daily protein you’ve consumed from these sources. Check out this chart as a simple guide on the grams of protein in foods:
|Red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood average 6 to 9 grams of protein per ounce.
An ideal amount for most people would be a 3-ounce serving of meat or seafood per meal (not 9- or 12-ounce steaks!), which will provide about 18 to 27 grams of protein.
|Eggs contain about 6 to 8 grams of protein per egg. So an omelet made from two eggs would give you about 12 to 16 grams of protein.
If you add cheese, you need to calculate that protein in as well (check the label of your cheese).
|Seeds and nuts contain on average 4 to 8 grams of protein per quarter cup (packaged with valuable fiber).
||Cooked beans average about 7 to 8 grams per half cup (packaged with valuable fiber).
Your Source of Protein Matters
Some people think meat is the best source of protein, but this isn’t necessarily the case, as there are other protein sources you can turn to. In addition, be wary of meats sold in conventional markets, as they mostly come from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are mistreated and given an unnatural diet of genetically engineered grains instead of fresh grass.
Other wonderful foods that can provide you substantial amounts of protein include fish (especially sardines and anchovies), pastured poultry and beef nuts, and seeds.
Are Eggs a Good Source of Protein?
Yes, they are. Eggs contain complete proteins, meaning they provide the eight essential amino acids. However, it is important that you choose true free-range eggs, also referred to as pasture-raised, which come from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet of seeds, worms, insects, and green plants. If you purchase these eggs in a grocery store, they typically are the most expensive ones on the shelf as they cost more to produce.
Tests have confirmed that pasture-raised eggs contain superior nutrient levels. Compared to eggs from CAFO chickens, they have:
- Two-thirds more vitamin A
- Three times more vitamin E
- Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
- Seven times more beta carotene
To learn more about how pasture-raised eggs stand out from other varieties (plus other interesting trivia about eggs), check out this infographic:
Remember that how you eat your eggs matters to ensure their nutrition content. Ideally, eat them raw or as close to raw as possible in order to keep the nutrients intact. As long as you’re getting pasture-raised eggs from clean trustworthy sources, your risk of infections like salmonella is pretty slim.
If you cannot eat them raw, poached or soft-boiled is the next best option. Scrambled or fried eggs are the worst, as this oxidizes the cholesterol in the eggs. Heating eggs also alters the chemical composition of the egg protein, which can result in an allergic reaction.
Restrict Your Dairy Intake
In this phase, you may eat dairy products like pasteurized yogurt and cheese. However, if you have any allergies, then it would be better to avoid all dairy, particularly pasteurized milk. Raw milk would be a better alternative. I also advise avoiding milk if you have insulin resistance, as it is loaded with milk sugar (lactose).
When consuming yogurt, make sure to read the ingredient list and check the carbohydrate content, as it may contain added sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Avoid low-fat dairy at all costs, as it tends to be densely packed with sugars.
You Can Eat All Meats in This Level
All meats, including lunch meats, are allowed in this phase. The benefits of eating meat (from organic, grass-fed sources) are plentiful, however, make sure that you purchase lunch meats that are free of preservatives like nitrate, and as mentioned above, steer clear of CAFO meats. In the next phase, you will move on toward higher quality protein sources.
Monitor Your Soy Intake
Is soy good for you? Despite what conventional health experts and health enthusiasts say, be warned that it’s NOT. Soy can weaken your immune system and lead to impaired thyroid function. Unfermented soy also contains phytoestrogens (or isoflavones) that are found to have adverse effects on human tissues, and may lead to an increased risk of cancer.
Furthermore, 94 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, which can expose you to damaging pesticides like glyphosate. This active ingredient is associated with a host of negative effects, and has been deemed to be a probable carcinogen that can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer in humans.
Despite this, you can still consume soy products in this phase but prepare to eliminate it completely. It will be completely excluded in the next phase, except for fermented soy products like miso, tempeh, and natto.
Think About Your Fish and Seafood Intake
You can consume all fish and seafood products, but some of these will be eliminated in Level 2 due to their high levels of toxins. One of the major contaminants in seafood is mercury, which can vary more than 100-fold from one seafood species to another.
Just to give you an example of how seafood is contributing to the rising mercury contamination among humans, a 2010 study found that tuna was responsible for more than one-third of Americans’ total exposure to methylmercury.
What’s more, seafood fraud is big business today and a growing industry with widespread contamination and deceit. Just some of the issues plaguing the seafood industry include:
- Increased use of antibiotics – Farmed seafood is typically given antibiotics and other drugs, which mask a lack of hygiene in the farms and promote antibiotic resistance. While the U.S. does not permit antibiotics in shrimp farming, other nations use it in their operations.
- Pollution and poor quality, leading to the spread of disease - The seafood industry is plagued with pollution, disease, and inferior nutritional quality – the same problems found in land-based concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The situation is becoming so dire that fish farms can now be described as “CAFOs of the sea.”
- Mislabeling – Shrimp and other fish are often mislabeled, exposing consumers to low-quality product – sometimes, those that are dangerous and/or not even intended for human consumption! In one instance, some varieties of white tuna sold in retail outlets were found to be escolar, a fish that can cause severe digestive problems.
- Lack of oversight – Most seafood imported today come from industrial farms in other countries that have very lax industry regulations, and they do not undergo adequate inspection when imported to the US. In fact, 60 percent of imported shrimp tested were found to have bacteria that may cause staph infection and food poisoning.
There are certain fish varieties that are ideally safe in terms of contamination, and would benefit you if added to your health diet. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sockeye salmon are some of your best choices, as neither are allowed to be farmed. There are also acceptable choices as Vital Choice and Wild Planet. Their short lifespan prevents contamination by mercury and other toxins, while providing you with nutrients like protein and omega-3s.
Other safe seafood choices include sardines, herring, and anchovies. These are among the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats. One serving of sardines has more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value. They are also rich in nutrients like vitamin B12, selenium, calcium, and choline. One caveat, though, these are very high in histamines so back off if you notice a histamine reaction. Unlike food allergies, a histamine reaction may not manifest for several hours.
Watch Your Bean and Legume Intake
Beans can provide you with good (but not complete) proteins. However, they are complex carbohydrates that can contribute to raising your insulin levels. If you do not suffer from insulin resistance, you can consume beans in this phase, but if you struggle with this problem, avoid them until you’ve normalized your levels.