The effects of too much protein in the diet


For years carbohydrates have received a bad rap, steering dieters toward high protein diets. When dieters first increase their protein and eat few or no carbohydrates, they often see the scale go down quickly. However, it is usually water weight and not fat that is lost.

Dieters should learn that eating too much protein is not healthy, causing medical concerns. With all the hype of high protein diets, there are also red flags regarding too much protein.


Proteins are long chains of linked-together amino acids, such as nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, sulphur and hydrogen atoms. During digestion they're broken down in the stomach by enzymes (proteases) into smaller polypeptides which provide amino acids. These amino acids are essential for the body which cannot biosynthesize itself.


Proteins help with food digestion and muscle movement. Through ligaments, hair and fingernails, they give structure. They also help with sight, as the lens of the eye is made of pure crystalline protein. Helping the body carry oxygen to all other cells by producing haemoglobin is another role. Proteins also help the body ward off infection and disease by making antibodies.

Dangers of Excessive Protein

Too much protein and not enough carbohydrates can cause ketones to collect in the blood (ketosis). People on high protein diets, such as the Atkins diet, are told that by being in constant ketosis they can lose weight because this forces the body to burn fat for energy. However, ketosis is dangerous because it can cause mild dehydration by placing a burden on the kidneys. Besides kidney problems, side effects can include headaches, dizziness, confusion, fatigue and nausea. Excessive protein in your diet also increases the risk of osteoporosis because of limited calcium intake. It also results in more acidic blood because when acids break up and enter the blood, it makes it acidic, disturbing the pH level. An imbalance of extreme amounts of protein and not enough carbohydrates usually leads to less fibre, resulting in constipation. This can lead to haemorrhoids, polyps and even colon cancer. Other conditions include heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Hypertension (high blood pressure) can likewise be an effect of too much protein. Athletes who eat excessive protein don't perform as well due to the depletion of glycogen because of the body burning energy. Eating too much protein from fatty animal foods gives you too many high-fats, meaning added calories and weight gain. When you eat saturated fats, as well as transfats and cholesterol in foods, you increase the bad LDL cholesterol and the total level of cholesterol. When this happens, there's a greater chance of heart disease.

Daily Protein Requirements

The protein needed each day varies according to an individual's age, weight, lifestyle and diet. A healthy adult should eat 0.8 grams per kilogram (a kilogram being about 2.2 pounds) of bodyweight, excluding pregnant women who need an extra 10 grams than what is recommended. Nursing mothers need an extra 15 grams for the first 6 months while nursing. After that, they need only an extra 12 grams. Males with a strenuous exercise routine should eat from 1 to 1 1/2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Tips for Healthy Protein Choices

Although protein is meat, it can also be found in other foods such as eggs, beans, nuts and seaweed. Dairy products such as cheese and milk also contain protein. Rather than just eat meat, include fish rich in fatty omega-3 acids such as salmon and trout. Choose lentils (dry beans) as a main dish. Also, include nuts in salads and casseroles. Try to reduce your portions, select only lean meat and then trim away any visible fat before cooking.


Often athletes think they need to take protein supplements because muscle is made of protein. However, supplements aren't necessary even if there's a somewhat greater need for more protein.