Who Should Try a High-Protein Diet?

Photo: Starcevic / Getty Images

You’ve seen her at the gym: the toned woman who always kills it at the squat rack and seemingly lives on hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, and whey protein shakes. It’s totally normal for you to wonder if a high-protein diet plan is the real secret to slimming down. Especially since it’s about as trendy as healing with crystals and body positivity.

Generally paired with a low carbohydrate intake (think paleo or Atkins), a high-protein diet has been shown to boost weight-loss results, improve feelings of satisfaction after meals, and even help control blood sugar levels. Plus, it helps to repair your muscles when they tear during exercise. (Don’t worry, small tears are normal. When they repair, your muscles come back stronger than before.)

But this way of eating isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for anyone looking to lose a few pounds. In fact, consuming significantly more than the recommended amount of protein (roughly 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight—or 55 to 68 grams for someone weighing 150 pounds-according to nutritionist Jennifer Bowers, Ph.D.) can lead to a few issues. One University of Connecticut study reported dehydration as a problem, while other research has shown that high-protein diets are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and kidney disease. And people on high-protein diets rich in red meat have higher levels of uric acid in their blood, which can increase the risk of gout.

So what types of people would actually benefit from a high-protein diet? Potential bodybuilders and anyone looking for short-term weight loss, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., co-chair of the Greater New York Dietetic Association. “This way of eating isn’t for long-term sustainable weight loss over a year,” he says. “Anyone who has kidney function issues is at risk for kidney stones or gout, or people with diabetes or high blood pressure should definitely steer clear of them.”

As with any eating routine, Valdez advises anyone considering this type of high-protein, low-carb diet to follow up with a primary care physician or registered dietitian.

“You will need higher water intake, vitamin B6 (for protein metabolism), and other vitamins like calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and iron,” he says. “When you’re cutting down on carbs and sugar, there’s low glycogen storage in muscles, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.”

If you’ve got the go-ahead from your physician, then make sure you’re smart about your protein picks. It’s always best to reach for whole food sources of your macronutrients, rather than powdered supplements. (But, if you’re in the market, these are the best protein powders for women.) Valdez recommends Greek yogurt or other popular foods that are high in protein, like salmon, beef, or tofu-roughly 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) is a good serving size.

  • By Emily Abbate @emilyabbate

An introduction to protein

Protein is essential for a number of functions including growth, brain development, healthy bones and the production of hormones. Proteins are made up of ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids in total of which eight (or ten for children) are termed essential because we cannot make them in our bodies and so have to get them from the food we eat.

Proteins are divided into two groups: animal and plant. Animal proteins, such as meat, cheese and eggs are sometimes referred to as primary proteins as they contain all eight essential amino acids and are considered to be the most important ones for growth. Plant foods rich in proteins include pulses, legumes, lentils, tofu and other soya products. As delicious and nutritious as these foods are, they are referred to as incomplete proteins because they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids. However, as long as a varied, plant-based diet is eaten, vegetarians should have no problem achieving their protein requirements.

How much protein do you really need?

The crude measurement is 0.7g of protein for every kilogram of body weight. The average person easily reaches this protein requirement without even being on a high-protein diet. However, your personal needs will depend on your age, sex and level of activity.

The ‘Biological Value’ of protein:
In order to assess the quality of a protein, scientists measure the proportion of the amino acids that are absorbed, retained and used in the body to determine the protein’s biological value (BV). The food source that has the highest biological value is whey protein, the second highest is eggs. Whey is a natural by-product of the cheese making process; when cheese is made, the whey is left behind. It is a complete protein because it contains all the essential and nonessential amino acids, particularly those important to cellular health, muscle growth and protein synthesis, which is why whey is favoured by body-builders and athletes. However, studies suggest that some of the health properties of whey may be compromised by the extensive processing most products undergo.

Why people follow a high-protein diet

There are some occasions when extra protein is needed, including childhood/adolescence (growth), pregnancy, lactation, intense strength and endurance training and certain illnesses. The elderly may also require extra protein.

Furthermore, many experts believe that a diet high in carbohydrates – refined ones in particular – is the main cause of weight gain and the modern obesity epidemic. As a consequence, high-protein (coupled with low-carbohydrate) diets have become increasingly popular, with the Atkins diet and Dukan diet among the most well-known. These diets typically allow you to eat unlimited amounts of all meat, poultry, fish, eggs and most cheeses, while carbohydrates are limited. A typical high-protein diet might consist of a breakfast of ham and eggs, lunch of cheese, meat, fish or an omelette and dinner consisting of meat or fish and vegetables.

Similarly, the Paleo diet has received considerable attention for its high protein principles. The idea behind the diet is that by sticking to a diet that mimics our hunter/gatherer ancestors, one that avoids carbohydrates, grains and other modern foods, you are eating just what you need to stay lean and avoid inflammatory conditions.

Research and safety

There is evidence to suggest that the body handles animal proteins differently from plant proteins and that reliance on purely animal proteins may lead to the development of several chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers. This has been supported by population studies and animal studies comparing vegetarians and omnivores.

In the short-term, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may reduce hunger and often reduce energy (calorie) intake, conferring some benefits for weight loss. High intakes of vegetable protein may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease and lipid profiles compared to animal sources. Before embarking on a high-protein diet, it is important to talk through the options with your GP or health professional.

Recipe inspiration

If you are concerned you’re not eating enough protein, check with your doctor before changing your eating habits. If you do need to increase your intake, our delicious, nutritionist-approved recipes are perfect for a protein-boost.
High-protein recipes
High-protein breakfasts
High-protein lunches
High-protein dinners
High-protein snacks

Read our expert guides on how to eat a balanced diet, try the best sources of protein or discover the best vegetarian sources of protein.

This article was last reviewed on 16 September 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

The Ultimate List of High-Protein Foods You Should Eat Every Week

Photo: / Artem Evdokimov

Counting macronutrients-protein, fat, and carbs-may not be totally mainstream just yet, but people are starting to pay more attention to it. And while some diets want you to limit carbs or fat, nearly every eating program-from the keto diet and Mediterranean diet to Whole30 and the DASH diet-gives the green light to high-protein foods. Why?

“Amino acids, the organic molecules that make up protein, are essentially the building blocks of life,” says Abby Olson, R.D., owner of Encompass Nutrition in St. Paul, MN. “Unlike carbohydrates and fat, your body doesn’t store extra amino acids, and they need to be consumed daily.”

In other words, if you fall short on your recommended intake of high-protein foods, your internal and external organs will suffer.

“You need protein to make hair, blood, enzymes, and so much more,” explains Brooke Alpert, R.D., author of The Diet Detox. “The recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, so a 130-pound woman would need at least 48 grams of protein. In my practice, I’ve found those numbers to be a bit modest instead of focusing on grams, I simply ask my clients to make sure there is one serving of protein at every single meal.”

Your waistline can also suffer if you don’t regularly eat high-protein foods each day. Science shows a connection between a healthy dietary protein intake and lower weight, more lean body mass, better cholesterol, a healthier waist-to-hip ratio, and lower blood pressure.

Hit your quota with this list of dietitian-approved high-protein foods that fit within any eating style.

High-Protein, High-Fat Foods

1. Full-Fat Greek Yogurt

Skip the “zero” cartons and snack on yogurt made with whole milk (generally about 4 percent fat). In addition to the appetite-taming fat, each serving provides around 20 grams of protein. “Compared to regular yogurts, full-fat Greek is way more satisfying since it helps stabilize blood sugar levels,” says Alpert. Stick to plain-flavored varieties (you can add your own natural sweeteners if it’s too tart) to make sure added sugar doesn’t sneak up on you.

Try this: Sweet Potato and Chive Dip

2. Nuts

Whether you prefer plain pecans, almond butter on your midday sandwich, or the crunch of cashews in your homemade trail mix, you’ll score a satisfying amount of protein (about 5 grams per ounce), fat, and fiber from nuts. “Nuts are a trifecta of healthy eating,” says Alpert. “They offer a blend of all three macronutrients, which again helps to balance blood sugar, and they are a vegan source of protein.” (Here are more high-protein foods for vegans.)

Try this: Pistachio-Crusted Tilapia

High-Protein, High-Carb Foods

3. Beans

Thanks to beans, it really is possible to reach your recommended amount of daily protein without meat. Stock your pantry with garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and cannellini beans to toss into salads, stir into soups, and blend into hummus. (These 13 homemade hummus recipes are particularly tasty.) Not only will you net about 15 grams of protein per cup, depending on the particular variety, but “heart-healthy plant-based proteins provide fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc,” says Olson. Plus, there’s no need to fear the carb count, adds Alpert. “Most of the carbohydrates are related to the high fiber count, so they are still quite healthy and a great option for a meatless protein.”

Try this: High-Protein Vegan Southwestern Salad

4. Lentil Pasta

Filling your diet with high-protein foods doesn’t mean that a bowl of pasta is off-limits. A 2-ounce serving of pulse-based noodles (pulses are dried peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas) offers a reasonable 2.5:1 ratio of carbs to protein (35 grams and 14 grams, respectively), plus more fiber than its flour-based cousin. “Utilizing a variety of protein sources throughout the day allows you to meet your protein needs while hitting your fat, carbohydrate, and vitamin needs,” says Olson.

Try this: Bolognese Green Chile Chorizo Pasta Sauce Over Rigatoni (using lentil rigatoni)

High-Protein, Low-Carb Foods

5. Eggs

Get cracking with this quick-cooking, remarkably versatile, vegetarian-friendly option. One egg provides 6 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs, and no, you shouldn’t freak over the 190 milligrams of cholesterol: One review in the British Medical Journal found no link between egg consumption and cholesterol-related heart disease or stroke risk. Kind of makes you want breakfast for dinner, doesn’t it? (Milk is also a good source of protein with fat-free milk offering up 8.4 grams for an 8-ounce glass.)

Try this: Breakfast Pizza Quiche

6. Wild-Caught Salmon

While any animal protein is naturally low in carbs and high in protein, both Alpert and Olson are fond of wild salmon for its strong omega-3 stats. “Mix up your diet with lean proteins and options that are higher in fat, such as fish, to cover your nutritional needs for essential micronutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and zinc,” says Olson. One 3-ounce fillet adds 17 grams of protein to your daily Rx. (BTW, here’s the difference between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon.) There are other seafood options that offer up high-protein counts for just a 4-ounce serving: rainbow trout (27.5g), bluefin tuna (34g), and canned tuna (26g).

Try this: Miso-Lime Salmon with Couscous, Broccoli, and Peppers

High-Protein, Low-Fat Foods

7. Chicken Breasts

Grilled chicken is the go-to bodybuilder pick for a reason: One 3.5-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast has less than 4 grams of fat while offering a hefty 31 grams of protein-all for just 165 calories. Stick to grilling, roasting, or baking rather than pan-frying or deep-frying if you’re keeping an eye on fat intake. Other high-protein meat options are sliced deli turkey breast (6g for 1 ounce) and lean sirloin beef (34g for a 4-ounce serving).

Try this: Open-Faced Chicken Bruschetta Sandwiches

8. Quinoa

Quinoa is a popular one on the list of high-protein foods because it’s also gluten-free, vegetarian, and low in fat, says Alpert. The ancient grain offers up 8 grams of protein for every cooked cup, making it an excellent side dish to any meal. If you’re looking for other plant-based, high-protein foods consider creamy peanut butter (8g for 2 tablespoons), edamame (11g for 1/2 cup), and firm tofu (20g for 1/2 cup).

Try this: Vegan Rainbow Quinoa Salad

  • By Karla Walsh

8 Proven Benefits of a High Protein Diet

By Krysta Fioranelli, 18 April 2016

The concept of eating more protein is no longer just followed by bodybuilders or professional athletes. Today, it is a mainstream concept that is followed by people the world over. There remains a lot of confusion about how much protein to take, whether it is safe or not, and what are the actual benefits of a high protein diet. Read on to learn the proven benefits of a high protein diet. Aside from the benefits of increased muscle mass and reduction of body fat, increased protein intake is associated with many other health benefits. The amino acids that make up proteins are required for healthy cells, bone formation, and nail and hair growth. They are also an integral part of almost all functions within the body. Are you now interested in getting more protein in your diet?

Table of Contents

  • Muscular development
  • Reduce calorie intake
  • Increase overall daily calorie burn
  • Increase the potential for fat loss
  • Gain more strength from your training
  • Stronger tendons and faster recovery from injury
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Better quality of life

These Benefits of a High Protein Diet That Will Convince You to Add More Protein to Your Diet:

1. Muscular development

Combining resistance-based activities such as weight training with higher levels of protein intake is proven to stimulate lean muscle development. Your body is constantly breaking down muscle and rebuilding it, especially when doing weight-based activities. If you are consuming enough protein and providing the body with amino acids to help repair and grow your muscles, then over time you will increase the levels of lean muscle mass in your body. Another huge benefit of having more lean muscle is increasing your resting metabolic rate. This means that you are burning more energy naturally, without exercise.

2. Reduce calorie intake

Protein-based foods tend to be more filling and satisfying, so eating more of them in your diet can result in fewer calories being consumed. Reducing the total amount of calories eaten every day can help you manage your weight more easily.

3. Increase overall daily calorie burn

Your body will utilize a lot more energy to break down and digest protein properly, than foods lower in protein such as fats or carbohydrates. Protein compared to fats and carbohydrates requires more than double the n of calories to become metabolized, which is known as the thermic effect.

4. Increase the potential for fat loss

When you combine increased muscle mass, more satiety from your meals and an overall higher metabolic rate due to extra muscle and the thermic effect of eating more protein, your body has more potential to lose body fat. You still need to be in an overall energy deficit to lose body fat, but having this combination of factors makes dieting much more effective and easier to sustain than other methods of body fat reduction.

5. Gain more strength from your training

If you are involved in activities that require a certain level of strength, then expect your strength levels to increase with increased protein intake. This is due to the combination of extra muscle development and quicker recovery from your training.

6. Stronger tendons and faster recovery from injury

If you supply the body with protein after your workouts, this helps strengthen and repair the tendons and other connective tissue so your body has less chance of injury and is better prepared for further exercise.

7. Better sleep patterns

If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, then increasing protein in your diet may help. This research¹ explains the results of two randomized studies on obese and overweight adults. After a 12-weeks trial, they concluded that a “greater proportion of energy from protein while dieting may improve sleep in overweight and obese adults.” If you still have problems getting to sleep on a high protein diet, then a small number of carbs in your evening meal can help by increasing serotonin levels, making you more drowsy and ready for sleep.

8. Better quality of life

If you want robust health and the ability to perform well, then strength, mobility, muscle mass, staying lean and having good internal functionality are vital. Increasing protein intake alone will not deliver all these benefits. However, as part of an overall diet and fitness program, it can have a significant impact that will give you a much better quality of life both now and as you age. A high protein diet can make a difference to your overall health and performance, if combined with the appropriate exercise program and lifestyle choices. Depending on your dietary preferences, choose a variety of high-quality protein sources, including all types of meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and of course Nuzest Clean Lean Protein. If the bulk of your protein sources are from animal products, this can cause acidity in the body. You can balance this out by integrating more alkaline foods into your diet, such as certain fruits and vegetables. Our protein has a PH of 7.8, making it one of the few high-quality alkaline proteins available. With regard to daily intake, it depends on your activity levels and fitness goals. For general exercise and managing weight, a good starting point is 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight. If you were reducing calories to lose weight, it is recommended that you increase this figure to around 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight until you have reached your target weight. For athletes or serious trainers looking to build muscle and strength, the 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good number to aim for and then track results. No matter your health and wellness goals, there are many benefits of a high protein diet. Protein is intake is crucial, and a high protein diet may help you reach your health goals.


3 benefits of eating a high protein diet

Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, this macronutrient helps keep muscles strong and can also play a role in metabolism and hunger! Research has shown that getting more of this nutrient in your diet can do more than just help with weight loss. Keep reading to find out the many benefits of what more protein in your diet can do for you!

Benefit #1 – Eating Protein Helps You Burn More Calories

Eating a diet high in protein helps you burn more calories. Protein has a thermic effect in the body that means the body expends energy or burns off calories during the digestion process. Compared to other foods, like carbohydrates which have the same caloric value, protein actually has a greater thermic effect.

One study completed on ten normal healthy weight women, examined the energy expenditure of three meals of equal calories, including a high protein meal, a high carbohydrate meal and a high fat meal. The energy expenditure of the high protein meal was 261 +/- 59, compared to less than half the amount burned by the high protein diet with values of 92 +/- 67 and 97 +/- 71 kilojoules.

Benefit #2 – Eating Protein Reduces Appetite and Keeps Hunger in Check

Appetite and hunger reduction between meals are a main benefit of eating a high protein diet. One study, completed on twenty healthy women compared the effects of appetite, satiety and subsequent food intake when given the following snack items: high protein yoghurt, high fat crackers or high fat chocolate snack.

Results showed that eating the high protein yogurt snack led to the greater reductions in afternoon hunger versus the chocolate and also delayed eating by approximately 30 min compared to the chocolate and approximately 20 min compared to the high fat crackers. But that’s not all eating the high protein yoghurt snack also led to eating 100 fewer calories at subsequent meals versus the other snacks. Not only were the subjects more satisfied, they were also more fulfilled.

This research shows that eating less caloric, high protein snacks like yoghurt improve appetite control and satiety and decrease further food intake later on. How do you make this work for you? Eat smaller more frequent high protein snacks or mini meals, between larger meals. Fill up on high protein non-fat yoghurt, have a whey protein shake, or hummus with veggie sticks.

Benefit #3 – Maintain Lean Body, Burn More Fat

Eating a diet that is high in protein can help maintain and build lean muscle, but it can also help you burn off fat. Protein helps maintain lean muscle, while limiting carbs can help switch your body to burn off more fat, even if you’re following a calorie-reduced diet plan. A recent study showed that eating a high protein diet while on an energy deficit (a calorie-reduced diet) helped maintain fat free mass!

In a recent controlled trial, subjects were assigned to one of the following high protein diets – where protein was provided at 0.8 g/kg/d, 1.6 g/kg/d or 2.4 g/kg/d for 31 days. A 10-day weight maintenance period was followed by a 21-day reduced calorie diet of 40%. At the end of the trial, participants lost on average 3.2 kg of body weight during the energy deficit diet regardless of the amount of protein, but the proportion of weight loss due to loses in fat-free mass was lower and the loss of fat mass higher in those receiving 1.6 and 2.4 g/kg/d of protein. Additionally, those following the higher protein meals had a greater protein synthesis or muscle building response in the muscle, than those consuming the lowest amount of protein per day.

Written by Lauren Jacobsen, Nutrition Director

Campbell B, et al. ISSN position stand: protein and exercise. JISSN. 2007. 4:8.

Crovetti R, et al. The influence of thermic effect of food on satiety. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998. 52(7): 482-88.

Ortinau LC, et al. Effects of high-protein vs high-fat snacks on appetite control, satiety and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutrition J. 2014. 13:97.

Pasiakos SM, et al. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The FASEB Journal. 2013. 27(9): 3837-47.

The Top 4 Scientifically Proven Benefits of a High-Protein Diet

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Every few months some new fancy, faddish diet pops up on TV shows, magazines, and book bestseller lists that claims to be everything your hungry little heart can desire.

You know the pitch: easy weight loss, sky-high energy levels, perfect health, superhuman longevity, and on and on. Depending on whom you listen to, it all can get quite confusing.

Some “fad diets” get more right than wrong and will be around for a while (Paleo and Mediterranean dieting, for example), while others just can’t live up to the hype (the current low-carb craze), and others still are more harmful than helpful and, hopefully, will fade away into obscurity (the HCG diet and other forms of starvation dieting come to mind).

Well, in this article I want to look past the headlines and “get back to basics” by looking at the most important component of any diet: protein intake.

Get this right, and you can reap incredible rewards in both overall health and body composition. Get it wrong and you’ll struggle to get the body you desire no matter what you do in the gym.

Let’s find out why…

What is protein and why is it so important?

Proteins are the primary building blocks of the body. They’re used to build tissues like muscle, tendon, organ, and skin, as well as many other molecules vital to life such as hormones, enzymes, and various brain chemicals.

Proteins are comprised of smaller molecules known as amino acids, which are linked together in a long chain that can be molded into different shapes.

Our body can produce twelve of the amino acids needed to form protein molecules, but it must get nine others from protein in the food we eat. The former are known as nonessential amino acids and the latter essential amino acids.

How much protein you eat every day is the primary factor that determines whether your body is getting enough essential amino acids or not, but the quality of the protein you eat also matters.

Animal-based proteins like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are particularly popular among athletes because they contain high but balanced amounts of essential amino acids, but certain plant-based proteins like rice and pea protein are high-quality as well.

Generally speaking, your protein needs are going to be best met by animal sources, but with a bit of creative meal planning, vegetarians and vegans can get enough amino-acid-rich protein to build plenty of muscle and strength.

You build more muscle and get stronger on a high-protein diet.

Muscle tissue is primarily composed of protein, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a high-protein diet helps you build it faster. And with more muscle comes more strength.

You see, when you train your muscles, you’re simultaneously damaging and breaking down muscle tissue and beginning a process known as “protein synthesis” whereby the body creates (synthesizes) new muscle proteins to replace and add to the damaged tissues.

This is why exercise, and resistance training in particular, increases the protein needs of the body, and why a high-protein diet helps you build more muscle and strength.

You lose more fat and less muscle on a high-protein diet.

When you want to get leaner, the goal isn’t just “weight loss”– it’s fat loss.

That is, the goal is to lose fat and not muscle, and research clearly shows that a high-protein diet is better for both losing fat faster and preserving muscle.You simply lose more fat and less muscle on a high-protein diet than a low-protein one.

Furthermore, research shows that a high-protein diet is easier to stick to when in a calorie deficit because it results in less mood disturbance, stress, fatigue, and diet dissatisfaction than lower-protein diets, and improved dietary compliance means better fat loss results in the end.

You feel fuller on a high-protein diet.

One of the biggest dietary obstacles people run into is plain old hunger, and especially when restricting calories for fat loss.

It can be incredibly hard to regulate food intake when your stomach feels like a grumbling Sarlacc Pit all day, and a high-protein diet can help.

Specifically, research shows that increasing protein intake decreases appetite through several mechanisms including favorably altering hormones related to hunger and fullness.

This satiating effect not only applies to a high-protein diet in general but to individual meals as well: research shows that high-protein meals are more satiating than high-fat meals, which means you feel fuller longer, making you less likely to overeat.

You preserve more muscle as you age on a high-protein diet.

The degenerative loss of muscle associated with aging (known as sarcopenia) is debilitative and, ultimately, life threatening. Research shows that the more muscle you lose as you age, the more likely you are to die of various causes related to injury and disease.

Elderly people can’t use protein as efficiently as younger folk and thus need significantly more protein. This is why a high-protein diet is an effective way to help mitigate or even prevent the effects of sarcopenia, and especially when combined with resistance training (yes, even the elderly can build muscle!).

As an added bonus, a high-protein diet also reduces the risk of osteoporosis, another serious health risk associated with aging.

What constitutes a high-protein diet, exactly?

Advice on how much protein to eat is all over the place, and scientific research is often used to support all kinds of contradictory positions.

Some people claim the body needs very little protein regardless of activity level while others claim that protein should always comprise 40 to 50% of daily calories to optimize body composition and athletic performance.

The Institute of Medicine says that protein should comprise 10 to 35% of our daily calories, but that’s quite a large range. How do we decide where our intake should fall in it? And are there any benefits to even higher intakes?

To find some answers, let’s review some of the studies available on the protein needs of athletes in particular.

According to research conducted by scientists at McMaster University, a protein intake of 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (.6 – .8 grams per pound of body weight) is adequate for stimulating maximal protein synthesis. They did note, however, that more protein may be needed when you’re training frequently and intensely and when you’re restricting calories for fat loss.

A study conducted by researchers at The University of Western Ontario concluded the same: 1.6 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight might be enough for athletes, but higher intakes may also be warranted depending on a wide variety of factors including energy intake, carbohydrate availability, exercise intensity, duration and type, dietary protein quality, training history, gender, age, timing of nutrient intake, and more.

There’s also evidence that the longer you lift weights, the less protein your body needs to retain and build muscle.

As you can see, the question of how much protein to eat is fairly complex, but when you review the large amount of literature available, a general consensus emerges:

  • If you’re relatively lean and not in a calorie deficit, 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is enough to reap the many benefits of a high-protein diet.

This also jives with the “gym lore” that bodybuilders have sworn by for decades: 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

  • If you’re relatively lean and in a calorie deficit, 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is probably best.

Research shows that restricting calories increases the protein needs of resistance-trained athletes, and especially as leanness increases (the leaner you are, the more protein your body will need to preserve muscle while in a calorie deficit).

If you’re quite overweight (20% body fat and above in men and 30% and above in women), you can eat 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass while in a calorie deficit and do well (check out my article on measuring your body fat percentage to learn more about this).

My personal experience agrees with the above as well. I’ve found that I don’t need more than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight when “bulking” and if I drop below this number when “cutting,” I lose strength faster (which indicates muscle loss).

Are there health risks associated with a high-protein diet?

The mainstream media has been buzzing with anti-protein propaganda over the last few years with claims like a high-protein diet can cause damage to the kidneys and increase the risk of cancer and osteoporosis, but these claims simply aren’t supported by sound scientific research.

Research shows that people with pre-existing kidney damage or disfunction should restrict protein intake, but a high-protein diet has never been shown to cause kidney damage.

Ironically, a high-protein diet has been shown to both lower blood pressure and improve blood glucose control in diabetics, which would decrease the risk of kidney disease, not increase it.

Claims that a high-protein diet increases the risk of osteoporosis are even stranger, as research directly demonstrates that it helps prevent the condition.

Another rather disturbing claim that has recently made the rounds is that a high-protein diet increases the risk of cancer and eating meat and cheese regularly is as unhealthy as smoking.

Well, while such sensationalism works wonders for website hits, it’s misleading and scientifically bankrupt. To quote Dr. Spencer Nadolsky from

“To even suggest that eating protein is as bad as smoking is pure sensationalism…

“A more accurate headline for this study would have been ‘High protein for those between 50 years to 65 years old who have poor diet and lifestyle habits may be associated with increased cancer risk.’”

If you want to learn more about this controversial issue, check out Dr. Nadolsky’s in-depth analysis of the research used to link a high-protein diet to cancer.

The Bottom Line

If you’re physically active, a high-protein diet is, without question, going to help you improve your health, body composition, and performance (this applies to endurance athletes as well).

And while sedentary people don’t need as much protein as those that exercise regularly, research shows that the current RDI of 0.8 grams per kg of bodyweight simply isn’t enough to maintain lean mass and bone health as they age.

What’s your take on a high-protein diet? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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What Brunilda Nazario, MD, Says:

Does It Work?

A high-protein diet will help you lose weight. A number of studies show that diets higher in protein keep you fuller better than other types of diets. Other studies show that restricting carbs, as a result of a high-protein diet, causes more weight loss. But calories still count!

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

The Protein Power diet would work for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or high cholesterol. The Power Protein diet is a low-carb diet with less than 20% of total calories from carbs or less than 100 grams of carbs per day. Limiting carbs helps lower blood sugar, insulin, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure. It also boosts HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

But getting too much protein can raise your uric acid levels, which can cause gout. Too much protein load also could be a problem in anyone with kidney problems.

You also need to make sure that you’re not getting too much fat from your food if your doctor has given you guidelines on that to help lower your cholesterol, for instance.

Women of childbearing age need folate, which is added to flour, and if you cut out carbs, that will mean you get less folate. Prepregnancy weight loss is best done with a more balanced approach that cuts calories.

The Final Word

It’s a simple dieting approach that essentially eliminates one major food group, and, like any restrictive diet, it is difficult for most people to sustain for a long time, .

This diet will help you lose weight, but if you have a specific nutritional need this may not be the diet for you. You may need to take a daily supplement to cover any nutritional gaps in vitamins and minerals.

‘Protein is one of the most important parts of your diet as it is essential for growth, repair and maintaining health, including muscles, bones and your immune system,’ says registered nutritional therapist Jennie Gough.

And the science agrees, protein foods are key to a balanced diet (read up on your macros for more information about what experts say you should be eating for both fat loss and weight maintenance).

The benefits of protein foods

Bone Density

Swiss research has identified a positive effect of protein intake on bone mineral density – read, it can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis. But don’t OD on too many high-protein foods; a protein-rich diet (considered a daily intake of around 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight) in association with a low intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium can have the opposite effect.

Fat loss

The McMaster University recently found that incorporating protein foods into a weight-loss eating programme, can not only help to build muscle but will also increase the amount of body fat you’ll lose. It’s a win-win.

Craving curbing

Key to effective weight management? Fill up with a high protein clean lean breakfast. A study by the University of Missouri-Columbia highlighted has eating protein foods at breakfast not only combats cravings but also reduces unhealthy snacking throughout the day.

Additional research published in the journal Cell Metabolism revealed that it’s because eating many good sources of protein increases the amount of a hunger-fighting hormone called peptide YY in the body.

So, how much protein do you need?

‘The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults,: says Gough. ‘It typically works out at around 45g per day but individual requirements may vary – if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or lead a particularly active lifestyle, you will likely need more.’ Base the maths on your lean body mass (ie the weight you carry that isn’t fat) for the most accurate results.

Related Story

Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein needs to be topped up on a daily basis – but before you reach for ready-made protein-rich foods such as shakes or bars, don’t underestimate the benefits of whole, complete protein foods.

What does 45g protein look like?

180g cheddar cheese
140g grilled chicken breasts
190g tuna
145g grilled steak

And the good news is you don’t need to go overboard with your protein-rich foods to max its health gains. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that it’s only about the first 30g of dietary protein per meal that produces muscle – any more will simply be stored as fat or excreted out of your body.

It’s also worth mixing up your good sources of protein – occasionally eating vegan protein can significantly reduce your risk of early death. Enough said.

Here is Gough’s pick of the top protein foods…

1. Chicken

There’s a reason why many athletes are filling up on these healthy chicken recipes. Chicken (grilled without the skin) is one of the best protein-rich foods, providing 32g protein per 100g to build strong, healthy muscles and bones. Opt for organic if you can a this was found by a study published in the journal Meat Science to contain 38% more omega 3. And why does that matter? This healthy fatty acid can speed your workout recovery and help you smash your PB. Omega 3s increase protein synthesis – the process that turns the protein you eat into body muscle.

2. Cheddar Cheese

Dieters rejoice. Turns out there’s no need to swerve the cheese board, after all. Half-fat cheddar cheese has almost 10g more protein per 100g at 32.7g per 100g than its full-fat alternative – meaning you can get your fill without risking your weight-loss goals. It’s also a source of calcium, a lack of which can trigger the release of calcitriol, a hormone that encourages fat storage; and zinc, required by the body for producing muscle-building testosterone.

3. Pork Chop

Eat this meat lean and grilled to enjoy 31.6g protein per 100g plus thiamine, a vitamin shown to help you recover from exercise more quickly. Steak lovers rest easy; steak comes in close behind with 31g protein per 100g.

4. Salmon

Another source of protein and omega 3s, grilled salmon packs a fishy punch with 24.2g protein per 100g. Research published in the journal Cell Metabolism found high-protein foods such as salmon can aid weight loss by reducing hunger pangs. Go for wild Alaska salmon for added gains; it tends to be lower in fat. Read these 4 simple ways to eat more salmon for inspiration

5. Tuna

Like to lift heavy? Time to try this recipe for sumac seared tuna with courgette tabbouleh. The fish contains 23.5g protein per 100g and is also a source of selenium, which has been shown to prevent free radical damage after weight training.

6. Egg

Although, compared to the other protein foods in the top five, egg weighs in with a much lower 13g protein per 100g, don’t ditch your morning scramble just yet. The reason? Well, apart from tasting good, they contain a whopping 18 amino acids, including all nine of the essential ones. Think of these as the building blocks of protein and therefore, in a way, you.

7. Yoghurt

Not all yoghurt is made equal when it comes to protein content but, on average, expect to find around 10-11g protein per 100g, making it still a worthwhile breakfast choice, In fact, US research shows that eating a high-protein meal first thing plays an important role in stabilising blood sugar levels and preventing fat gain. Opt for proper Greek yoghurt over ‘Greek-style’ alternatives, which may contain additives.

Related Story

High protein consumption in trained women: bad to the bone?

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Key Facts

  • Protein is vital for your body’s health.
  • Most teens need to get 40-60g of protein a day through food or beverages.
  • Protein supplements aren’t necessary if you eat a well-balanced diet.

Protein is needed to build and repair your muscles, make hair and skin, fight against infections, and carry oxygen in your blood. Proteins are made up of twenty different building blocks called amino acids. Your body can make some amino acids, but there are nine that can’t be made (we call these “essential amino acids”), and the only way to get them is through the food you eat. It’s important to eat a variety of protein foods every day to make sure your body gets all the essential amino acids.

What foods are high in protein?

How much protein do I need each day?

The amount of protein that you need daily, or the recommended daily allowance (RDA), depends on your age and body size, but most teens need, on average, between 40 and 60 grams of protein each day. If you want to figure out exactly how much you need, you’ll need to do a little math.

If you’re 11-13 years old: Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.455; this gives you about how many grams of protein you need each day.

If you’re 15-18 years old: Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to estimate how many grams of protein you need each day.

Keep in mind that this is just an estimate. If you are very active and play sports, you may need more protein than someone who is not as active. While these calculations can be helpful, you most likely can meet your protein needs without knowing the exact amount. It may be more helpful to know how much protein is in the foods you eat. For comparison, 3 ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards. Your fist is approximately the size of ½ cup.

The table below lists some good sources of protein and the grams of protein in each serving.

Food Serving Size Grams of protein per serving
Tuna 3 ounces 20 grams
Hamburger 3 ounces 19 grams
Chicken 3 ounces 21 grams
Shrimp 3 ounces 20 grams
Tempeh 1/2 cup 19 grams
Yogurt, low fat 1 cup 12 grams
Greek Yogurt 1 cup 20 grams
Tofu 1/2 cup 10 grams
Lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 9 grams
Cow’s milk 1 cup 8 grams
Peanut butter 2 tbsp 8 grams
Almond butter 2 tbsp 7 grams
Sunbutter (peanut free) 2 tbsp 7 grams
Kidney beans, cooked 1/2 cup 8 grams
Cheese 1 ounce 7 grams
Egg, cooked 1 large 7 grams
Soy milk 1 cup 7 grams
Hummus 1/3 cup 6 grams
Miso 2 tbsp 4 grams
Quinoa, cooked 1/2 cup 4 grams
Bulgur, kasha, oats, cooked 1/2 cup 3 grams
Almonds 1/4 cup 8 grams
Peanuts 1/4 cup 9 grams

What’s the deal with protein supplements?

There are many different protein supplements that come as powders, shakes, and bars.

If you’re thinking of taking a protein supplement, keep these facts in mind:

  • Most teens get more than enough protein from food; therefore extra supplements don’t have any benefit.
  • Protein supplements don’t increase muscle mass, strength, or endurance – the keys to building new muscle are 1) proper training and recovery, 2) eating a balance of carbohydrates and protein after exercise, and 3) eating enough calories throughout the day.
  • Since protein powders and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, some products may contain ingredients that can be harmful to your body.
  • Protein supplements are very expensive.

Be sure to talk to your health care provider (and dietitian) if you’re taking a protein supplement or if you’re thinking about taking one.

How often should I eat foods with protein in them?

Protein is a filling nutrient, so it’s a good idea to eat some at every meal and at most snacks to feel satisfied and not hungry. Our bodies have no way of storing protein so you can’t eat it all at one meal and assume that your body will have enough at other times. The table below includes some easy ways for you to get in protein throughout the day.

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Whole wheat toast with peanut butter String cheese Lean cold-cuts with vegetables and cheese (in a sandwich or wrap) Baked or grilled fish
Scrambled eggs (or egg substitute) with cheese and salsa, rolled in a whole wheat tortilla Greek Yogurt Chili with cornbread Turkey burger
Poached egg on a whole grain English muffin Hummus with carrots Bean burrito Stir-fried tofu or chicken with vegetables

Study shows why high-protein diets are unhealthy

Credit: Georgi Kirichkov

Researchers in South Australia believe they have found the key to why high-protein diets are unhealthy and can lead to shortened lifespans.

The project used worms and fruit flies to investigate how diet influenced the speed of protein synthesis. The results clearly showed that speeding up protein synthesis would produce more errors and this is related to shorter lifespans.

The findings by scientists at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) also support research which suggests carbohydrates aren’t necessarily the dieting demons they are sometimes made out to be.

Corresponding author and SAHMRI Nutrition and Metabolism Theme Leader Professor Christopher Proud said his team identified how nutrient supply affects longevity.

“Science has known for some time that eating too much, in particular protein, reduces lifespan; and now we know why,” he said.

“Our team demonstrated that increased nutrient levels speed up protein synthesis within cells. The faster this process occurs the more errors are made.

“It’s similar to everyday activities like driving – the faster you go, the more likely you are to make a mistake.

“The resulting build-up of faulty proteins within cells compromises health and shortens lifespan.”

The research, which has been published in Current Biology, also reinforces established links between a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet and longer, healthier lives – especially when it comes to brain health.

“Carbohydrates get a lot of bad press, especially in relation to dieting, but the key is balance and knowing the difference between ‘good’ carbs and ‘bad’ carbs,” Professor Proud said.

“Eating high-fibre carbohydrates like those found in fruit, vegetables and unprocessed grains and seeds will produce the healthiest benefits. This is similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet which has well-established links to longevity.”

“We already knew that lower food intake extends lifespan,” Professor Proud said.

“But in our study this effect was lost when we removed the link by which nutrition affects the accuracy of protein synthesis, therefore revealing how overnutrition can shorten lifespan.

“Since this link also operates in humans, our findings show how lower protein consumption could promote longevity in people.”

Explore further

A protein that extends life of yeast cells More information: Jianling Xie et al. Regulation of the Elongation Phase of Protein Synthesis Enhances Translation Accuracy and Modulates Lifespan, Current Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.029 Journal information: Current Biology Provided by The Lead Citation: Study shows why high-protein diets are unhealthy (2019, February 19) retrieved 1 February 2020 from This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Along with HIIT, protein has really had its moment over the past couple of years. As the health and wellness movement has grown, so has the interest in the food group you learnt about in school, and lots of people have switched to high-protein diets to accompany their exercise regimens.

It’s easy to see why the two go hand in hand; eating a high amount of protein allows for muscles to develop, repair and maintain themselves by keeping your metabolic rate high. And even better, it’s great for your hair, hormones, bones and skin, too.

But it’s imperative, of course, to remember to take extra care when changing your diet in any way – and increasing your intake of protein is no exception. Which is why Dr Josh Axe (DC, DNS), co-founder of Ancient Nutrition is here to lend a helping hand, flagging six of the most common mistakes people make when adapting to a high protein diet:

1. Selecting unhealthy sources of protein

Dr Axe is quick to urge you to take care when selecting proteins, as some can surprisingly be harmful to your health. “Not all protein foods are created equal. In fact, while salmon, chicken and grass-fed beef are all highly nutritious, processed meats like bacon, corned beef, sausage and jerky are often pumped full of additives and preservatives that can be harmful to your health,” he says. |Not only that, but eating processed meat has been linked to a number of different diseases, including heart disease, COPD and colorectal cancer.”

So what proteins should we be eating? “Select healthy protein foods like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, skinless poultry, eggs and dairy,” Dr Axe says.

2. Neglecting plant-based proteins

The word protein might cause meat to spring to mind, but that’s not the only option, you know. “Many people think of high-protein diets as an excuse to load up on the meat, poultry and fish. However, while these foods definitely are great sources of nutrients, that doesn’t mean they should be the only protein foods in your diet.

“Plant-based protein foods are high in several key vitamins and minerals that may not be found in meat and also supply a good amount of fibre, which is essential for supporting digestive health and regularity. Beans, seeds, lentils and tempeh are a few of the top plant-based sources of protein, each of which offers a unique array of nutrients and health benefits,” he explains.

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3. Eating too much protein

Protein might be good for you, but the same ‘everything in moderation’ rules apply to that, too. “Moderation is always key, especially when it comes to protein intake,” says Dr Axe. “In fact, overdoing it on the protein can have several negative effects on health. For example, if you eat more protein than your body needs, excess amounts will be stored as fat in the body, leading to weight gain. Eating high amounts of protein can also force your kidneys to work harder, which may worsen kidney function in those with kidney disease,” the doctor adds.

4. Not drinking enough water

Let’s not forget the science behind the diet. “When you eat protein, it’s broken down by the body into amino acids, which contain a compound called nitrogen. Excess nitrogen is flushed out of the body with fluids, which is why it’s important to increase your intake of water on a high-protein diet,” says Dr Axe. In other words: “Be sure to up drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially if you’re physically active. As a general rule of thumb, aim for 30ml of water for each pound of body weight to stay hydrated.”

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5. Cutting out other food groups

Protein might be your new love interest, but don’t sack off all the other foods that had your back before. “Protein is one key food group on the high-protein diet, but it’s not the only food group that should be considered,” advises the doctor. “Carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, for example, are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which play a central role in health and disease. Meanwhile, healthy fats help provide energy for your body, enhance nutrient absorption and support cell growth. Putting the focus solely on protein and neglecting these other vital nutrients can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and may take a serious toll on health over time,” Dr Axe adds.

6. Not exercising

Basically, exercise and proteins are the perfect duo. So if you’re going to undertake a high protein diet, you want to make sure you’re doing the necessary exercise, too. “Protein is absolutely essential when it comes to muscle growth, which is why it’s often spotted as a star ingredient in post-workout shakes and supplements. However, following a high-protein diet alone won’t do much for muscle growth and exercise performance if you’re not pairing it with a regular gym routine,” points out Dr Axe.

How much exercise is the right amount? “It’s typically recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week along with regular strength training for each muscle group at least twice per week. Combining this with a healthy, protein-rich diet can help maximise muscle growth and optimise your routine.”

Related Story Related Story

High-Protein Diet Could Be Harmful, Even for Healthy Kidneys

A high-protein diet, often recommended as a way to lose weight and stay healthy, appears to be harmful to the kidneys in individuals with apparently normal kidney function, two separate new studies indicate.

The two studies, from the Netherlands and Korea, were published online in Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation.

Many previous studies have shown that a high-protein diet may harm kidney function, and this is why nephrologists recommend patients with known early stage chronic kidney disease (CKD) stick to a low-protein diet.

But people who have mild CKD of which they are unaware or those at high risk may follow the trend of eating a protein-rich diet because they believe it is healthy, say Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, MD, PhD, and colleagues in an accompanying editorial.

“The high-protein culture has emerged as the preferred, healthy, and safe way of eating at the dawn of the 21st century,” they write.

Dietary regimens such as the Atkins, Zone, South Beach, and Ketogenic diets have emerged “in which daily protein intake increased to 20% to 25% or more of the total daily energy intake. We are being told that getting plenty of protein is the revival of our hunter–gatherer ancestral spirit and it will help maintain our lean muscle and reduce fat mass,” the editorialists note.

But given these two new studies, “and other data, it is time to unleash the taboo and make it loud and clear that a high-protein diet is not as safe as claimed, as it may compromise kidney health and result in a more rapid kidney function decline in individuals or populations at high risk of CKD,” they underscore.

“It is prudent to avoid recommending high-protein intake for weight loss in obese or diabetic patients, or those with prior cardiovascular events, or a solitary kidney if kidney health cannot be adequately protected,” they summarize.

“It is essential that people know there is another side to high-protein diets and that incipient kidney disease should always be excluded before one changes one’s eating habits and adopts a high-protein diet,” added the senior author of the editorial, Denis Fouque, MD, PhD, of Centre Hospitalier Lyon-Sud, France, in a press release issued by the European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association (ERA-EDTA).

Dutch Study: Protein Intake, CKD Risk Highest in Those With Diabetes

In the Dutch study, Kevin Esmeijer, MD, of Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands, and colleagues collected dietary data using a food frequency questionnaire from 4837 patients 60-80 years of age with a history of myocardial infarction involved in the Alpha Omega Trial.

“At baseline and 41 months follow-up, serum cystatin C (cysC) and serum creatinine were measured from stored blood samples,” the investigators explain.

The mean age of the cohort was 69 years and mean estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) was 82 mL/min/1.73m2. As the authors point out, compared with the general population, patients with a history of myocardial infarction have double the rate of annual decline in kidney function and thus are at higher risk for CKD.

For the entire cohort, mean total protein intake was 71 g/day, of which approximately two thirds was from animal protein and the remaining third from plants.

Analyses indicated that the total amount of protein intake per day was inversely associated with the annual rate of kidney function decline. The annual change in eGFRcysC was doubled in patients with a total daily protein intake in excess of 1.20 g/kg ideal body weight, compared with an intake less than 0.80 g/kg.

Specifically, the annual change in eGFRcysC in those with the highest total daily protein intake was –1.60 mL/min/1.73m2 compared with –0.84 mL/min/1.73m2 for those with the lowest total daily protein intake, the investigators report.

And for each extra daily intake of animal protein of 0.1 g/kg ideal body weight, there was an additional decline in eGFRcysC of –0.12 mL/min/1.73m2 per year, they point out.

Subgroup analyses also indicated that the association between protein intake and decline in eGFR was threefold stronger in patients with diabetes compared to those without diabetes.

“Despite the fact that our patients received state-of-the-art drug treatment, we observed a beneficial effect of a low-protein intake on kidney function,” the authors conclude.

Higher Protein Intake and Independent Risk for Renal Hyperfiltration

In the Korean study, Jong Hyun Jhee, MD, of the Institute of Kidney Disease Research, Yonsei University, Seoul, and colleagues analyzed the effect that a high-protein diet had on renal hyperfiltration and declining kidney function in 9226 participants from the Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study.

Patients were classified into quartiles of daily protein intake as assessed by a food frequency questionnaire. The mean age of study participants was 52 years and the mean follow-up was 11.5 years.

Among the four quartiles of daily protein intake, the prevalence of renal hyperfiltration (defined as an eGFR with residuals > 95th percentile after adjustment for confounders) was significantly higher among those in the highest quartile of protein intake, at 6%, compared with 5.2% among those in the lowest protein intake quartile (P = .02), the investigators report.

And the annual mean decline in eGFR was again highest, at –2.34 mL/min/1.73m2, among those in the highest quartile of daily protein intake, compared with –2.01 mL/min/1.73m2 among those in the lowest quartile of protein intake (P = .02).

The researchers also looked at whether a higher protein intake was associated with a greater risk for a rapid decline in kidney function, defined as a decrease in eGFR of > 3 mL/min/1.73m2 per year.

They found that those in the highest quartile of protein intake had a 32% greater risk of experiencing a rapid decline of eGFR per year compared with those in the lowest quartile (P = .03).

Jhee and colleagues then took further steps to substantiate their findings. First, they divided the cohort into those with and without renal hyperfiltration and observed that the mean daily protein intake was higher in participants who had renal hyperfiltration compared with those who did not (P = .02).

They then found that the faster drop in renal function happened only among those with preexisting hyperfiltration.

“These findings lead us to infer that a higher intake of protein may be an independent risk factor for renal hyperfiltration that can accelerate deterioration of kidney function,” they conclude.

Western Societies Consume Too Much Protein

In their editorial, Kalantar-Zadeh and colleagues caution that the new studies “should be qualified for their epidemiologic nature, given that the association does not equate to causality.” And the use of a food frequency questionnaire in both studies “is another limitation,” they observe. Furthermore, “glomerular hyperfiltration cannot be reliably detected by eGFR values.”

Notwithstanding these limitations, the studies suggest that high daily protein intake may have deleterious effects on kidney health in the general population, they state.

The recommended dietary allowance for protein intake is only 0.8 g/kg/day and the requirement for protein is likely even lower, at only about 0.6 g/kg/day, provided adequate essential amino acids are consumed, they explain.

“However, most adults in Western societies eat 1.0 to 1.4 g/kg/day of protein,” the editorialists note, ” protein intake may be as high as 20% to 25% or more of the total energy source,” they add — considerably higher than the 10% to 15% recommended by most guidelines.

“Emerging data across individuals and populations suggest that glomerular hyperfiltration associated with a high-protein diet may lead to a higher risk of de novo CKD or may accelerate progression of preexisting CKD,” the editorialists conclude.

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2019. Study 1, Study 2, Editorial

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