How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Don’t sacrifice your carbohydrates for a high protein diet, and think twice before “bulking up” those biceps with protein to look better at the gym. Your daily diet shouldn’t contain more than 30% protein ideally, because an excess of it will do you more harm than good. So says Gail Butterfield, Ph.D., director of Nutrition Studies at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Dr. Butterfield says that excess protein in your diet may have harmful effects. If you increase protein without adding more calories and exercise to your daily life, instead of building muscle mass you will put your other body systems under undue stress. And eating more protein while increasing calorie intake — but keeping at the same exercise levels — builds an equal amount of additional fat and muscle. Meanwhile, a diet where protein is more than 30% of your calorie intake causes a buildup of toxic ketones. A “ketogenic” diet, or one high in ketones, pushes your kidneys to excessively flush themselves free of toxins. This can cause you to lose a significant amount of water, which puts you at serious risk of dehydration, especially if you exercise heavily during your workouts.

Such water loss will make it appear you’re losing weight, when in actuality you’re not. Plus you will be losing, not gaining, muscle mass and bone calcium from this ketogenic diet, while the stress of dehydration can also badly affect your heart. Dehydration from a ketogenic diet can make you dizzy and weak, give you bad breath, and lead to other health-related problems. This can be the result of a high-protein, low-carb “fad” diet one that emphasizes proteins excessively.

Actual protein deficiency is a very rare condition and is confined usually to elderly women or persons with eating disorders. Protein deficiency is defined as eating 50-75% of the recommended daily amount of protein. You should consume 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of your normal body weight, according to the US recommended daily allowance — or RDA — guides. And protein should make up about 15% of your daily caloric intake, not go well over 30% of it.

Protein is absolutely required for your body’s normal functioning, as it helps synthesize your enzymes and hormones. It maintains your fluid balance and the building of antibodies against infections. It also is the basic building block for your muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair and blood, and is essential for the formation of all of the cells in your body You should eat protein-rich foods such as meat, cheese, milk, fish and eggs to get enough protein in your daily diet. You can also find protein in soy products, as well as in combinations of food such as rice or corn with beans, when it comes to vegetable proteins that you may consume.

You should eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and complex carbohydrates, not one heavy in protein alone. But protein is optimal for immune functioning, and you may need heavier amounts of it when injured or otherwise undergoing any serious healing processes.

Proteins are made up of several different amino acids, some of which your body can make on its own. But some of them have to be ingested. These are called the “essential” amino acids. You must eat a variety of foods to make sure you’re getting all of your essential amino acids. Lack of these can cause growth failure, loss of muscle mass, decreased immune system functioning, weakening of the circulatory and respiratory systems and even death.

The most common source of protein in the American diet is meat, but milk and other dairy products are rich in it. To avoid too much fat with your protein, eat leaner cuts of meat, and cook without adding fat by baking, broiling, barbecuing or boiling your meat. By eating beans and lentils as well as a variety of vegetables and grains, you can add terrific sources of vegetable protein to your diet. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of non-animal protein.

The average adult American needs eight grams of protein each day per twenty pounds of normal body weight. Yet we generally eat twice that much protein daily. If you balance your carbohydrates with your proteins, and eat a variety of foods to make sure you get all of the amino acids you need, you will be eating a healthy diet. You should also make sure you keep your diet low in fats, oils and refined sugars. Those substances have no proteins, and hardly any other nutrients, with one gram containing nine calories of energy. You do need some saturated and unsaturated fats in your food, every day. Unfortunately, “junk food” laden American eating habits tend to provide far too much of these fats.

Your daily diet should contain no more than 30% total calories from fats, hopefully far less than that. The upper limit on the amount of fat in your diet will depend on how many calories you need to maintain your weight, and cutting back on fat can help you consume fewer calories. But some dietary fat is needed for good health. It supplies energy and the essential fatty acids, which like the essential amino acids can only be gleaned from your consumption of certain foods. Fats also promote absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

High levels of saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to increased blood cholesterol and put you at risk for heart disease. Fat is also associated with protein-rich food such as meat and dairy products. So you should lower the daily amount of protein and fat that you consume to an acceptable level, while raising the amount of complex carbohydrates you consume to at least 50% of your daily calorie intake. This will ensure that you are eating a proper and not a “fad” — or risky to your health diet every day. Eating meals and snacks rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as some high protein and certain “fatty” foods, will help you to obtain your desired weight and to keep fit — not fat.

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