Focus on Nutrition > Power Up: 4 Questions and Answers About Protein

Focus On Nutrition

Power Up: 4 Questions and Answers About Protein

All calories come from four places in our diets: carbohydrates, fat, protein and alcohol. Not all calories are created equal, however. In the 1990s, low-fat diets and foods were everywhere. More recently, carbs have come under fire. Alcohol has obvious drawbacks. Protein never seems to get much negative attention and is often proudly boasted on many food labels. Some coffee and smoothie shops even offer the option of adding a scoop of protein powder to your favorite drink.

But how much protein do we really need, and is it easy to overdo it? For answers, we turned to Registered Dietitian and TOPS nutrition expert Dena McDowell.

Q: Is there such a thing as too much protein, and what happens when you have too much?

Yes, eating too much protein may have health implications. Typically, about 15 to 20 percent of a person’s total calories should come from protein. So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, this is about 75 to 100 grams of protein per day. If you’re eating 1,500 calories a day, this would be about 56 to 75 grams a day. To put these ranges into perspective, a cup of milk has eight grams of protein, whereas a three-ounce chicken breast has about 20 grams of protein.

While you’d have to eat a lot of protein over time to see a negative health impact, long-term issues of kidney damage and kidney stones may result. Additionally, eating large amounts of protein foods that are animal-based may negatively impact cholesterol levels in the body. Bone health may also be affected.

Q: Protein is often advertised as something to keep your energy levels steady. Is this true?

In a general sense, this statement is true. Protein, coupled with whole-grain foods, can slow the release of carbohydrates (sugar) into the blood stream. This allows the blood sugar levels in the body to be more evenly-regulated.

Adding protein to meals and snacks to balance the amount of carbohydrates helps to balance the need to overproduce insulin, providing a constant small stream of energy.

Q: What are some healthy, minimally-processed and affordable sources of protein?

Protein foods may come from animal sources or plant sources. Healthy sources of animal proteins include: lean chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese. Plant-based proteins include: beans, legumes, nuts, nut butters, and soy foods such as edamame and tofu. You don’t need to buy pricey protein powders or bars to get enough protein in your diet!

Q: I overdid it last night. How can I get back on plan?

In certain conditions, a high-protein diet is recommended. Additional pro­tein is needed when recovering from an illness or trauma, healing wounds and during treatment for cancer. A high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet can be used as part of the treatment for epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Following a high-protein diet should be discussed with your healthcare provider before making any dietary changes.

This information is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal medical attention, diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please consult your licensed healthcare professional.