Protein is the much-needed nutrient to fuel our muscles and help maintain normal bodily functions. However, like most things in life, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
"The normal protein intake for most adults is 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, certain individuals may require more, such as those who lift weights regularly or are training for an athletic event. However, one should not consume more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day," says Shannon Cook, owner and Nurse Practitioner at Slimmer Solutions in La Verne, CA.
"For most healthy individuals, consuming a high protein diet for a short time will usually not produce any harmful effects. However, if continued long-term or consumed by individuals with certain chronic medical history, such as kidney disease, some serious conditions may result," she says. Studies are still being conducted to find out more details regarding these long-term effects, but it's a good idea to remain cautious, anyway.
Here are a few signs you might be eating too much protein and what you should do about it.
Too much protein can back you up. Ugh. Constipation due to high protein and restricted carbohydrate intake can occur, she says. "Even though 'carbs' are considered fats, they are a necessary part of our diet, as they provide the fiber and nutrients that we need in conjunction to protein," she says. So, if you're dropping carbs too heavily in favor of protein, you might be missing out on fiber, she says. (And here are a few carbs that are good for you and won't cause weight gain, too.)
Your breath can stink from excess protein. As your body enters ketosis, which is when you're on a high-protein and high-fat diet, and you're limiting carbohydrates, it can make for some foul smells.
"During this process, fat is being burned to fuel the body instead of the 'carbs.' The byproduct of this process is ketones, which can leave an unusual odor in the mouth," she says.
Initially, you may lose weight on a high protein diet, she says. However, your body can only burn so much protein at a time. So, when there's too much, that means too many calories and fat, as well. "The excess protein consumed will get stored as fat, causing weight gain over time," she says.
Increased Risk of Disease
If you come from a check up and see that a medical condition (one that is sensitive to high protein levels) has worsened, or you're alerted of an increased risk, you might want to rethink eating too much protein per day.
"For someone with kidney disease, who already has trouble eliminating toxins or waste from the body, a high protein diet may worsen this function by causing the kidneys to work harder," she says.
Same with the heart: "If a majority of the increased protein intake comes from animal sources, which are high in saturated fats, you may also be at risk for heart disease," she says. (And, if you're curious, here's a great heart-healthy recipe to try tonight.)
Of course this is individualized, so consult with your doctor before trying a high or low protein diet, anyway.
"Overall, it's very important to have a balanced diet, instead of focusing on just one ingredient, such as protein. By doing this, you are most likely missing out on other important nutrients," she says.