Is Your Protein Intake Helping or Hurting?

We all know protein is an important part of a healthy diet, but what happens when your protein intake is too high or too low? I’m sure you have all heard the phrase “balanced diet” in context with living a healthy lifestyle. Well that is just what getting proper nutrition is a balancing act. The right amount of protein is essential to a healthy and nutritious diet, however too much can add extra pounds, and also have other harmful effects on your body.

Let’s start with talking about what a protein actually is and how our bodies use them. A protein is made up of amino acids, 20 of which are found commonly in food. However, there are only 9 that the body cannot make itself, often called the essential 9. We must consume enough foods rich in these 9 amino acids, the other 11 are also found in foods but our body can adequately synthesis them. The essential 9 are as follows; Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Theronine, Tryptophan, and Valine. The other 11 are; Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Cyteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, and Tyrosine. All those amino acids make up proteins, and those proteins go on to do some very important tasks in our bodies. Proteins are responsible for growth, repair and maintenance of body tissues. They are found in all enzymes, hormones and antibodies; protein maintains fluid and acid-base balance in the body and can provide energy. Protein is even part of our DNA. Now that we have gone over some basic facts, let me clarify a huge protein myth. “Eating excess protein does not increase muscle size or strength, make bones stronger, or increase immunity. What excess protein does do is contribute to excess calories (which are stored as fat)” (Dr. Fahm 2011).

If you are the average American you probably don’t need to be concerned with consuming enough protein. The average American eats well over the recommended amount set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Americans seem to put more importance on protein intake (animal products) than other essential food groups such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. The over consumption of meat is directly related to a high protein intake. It is very important that you do not take supplements of the above mentioned amino acids if your protein intake is adequate or above the recommended intake level, in doing so you will do more damage to your body than good. “You could disrupt your body’s natural protein synthesis, and in most cases cause the following; loss of appetite, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal upsets, which overwork the liver and kidneys that could lead to dehydration,” (Dr. Fahm 2011). You should especially stay away from Tryptophan supplements (unless your diet does not provide adequate amounts). Side effects of Tryptophan overdoses cause serious illness, including painful muscles and joints, weakness, fever, cough, rashes, swelling and in some cases can lead to the disease EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome). “When high protein intake is combined with other common diet mistakes the result can be very damaging. High intake levels of protein with low calcium intake, can lead to lower calcium in the bone. Cardiovascular disease is also associated with high protein, because most foods that are high in protein are also high in fat and low in fiber” (Dr. Fahm 2011).

Knowing the effects of protein only gets you half way there, it is important to know that protein is not only found in animal products. It’s true that animal products do provide more protein per serving, but as mentioned earlier more is not always better. The following is a sample of how much protein (in grams) is in one serving of different food groups and products; “Milk (8ounces) = 9, Soymilk (8 ounces) = 6, Meat (1oz) = 8, Bread, Rice, Pasta = 3, Vegetables = 2, Fruits = 0 (traces), Fats = 0),” (Dr. Fahm 2011). A good tip for the average American is to eat less animal products. Oh, don’t worry I’m not trying to convert you to Vegan but if you are eating meat with every meal it’s too much.

Once you know what your average daily intake of protein is you can make changes in your diet to adjust it to a more desirable amount. Just remember that protein can be hazardous in high doses, but does fabulous things for you when you have the right intake amount. So do yourself a favor and assess your protein intake today!

Fahm, E. (2011). Protein and amino acids [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from file.

Nickole Siegman is a student at the University Of Wisconsin – Stout and is a regular contributor for and – two of the web’s leading websites for human & animal health and nutrition information and products.

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