Are high protein diets healthy?
Updated: Jul 7
How much protein should we be eating?
In recent years, the popularity of paleo and grain free diets and the variety of protein bars, powders and shakes on offer, has resulted in many people increasing their daily protein intake. Protein is a very important macronutrient. It’s required for growth and repair, making antibodies for immune protection and the synthesis of enzymes, neurotransmitters and other important hormones.
As with all foods however, too much is not always a good thing. Very high protein intake has been linked with increased inflammation and alterations in the gut microbiome.[i] Although there is less chance of negative consequences in healthy people, increased risk of cancer and overburdened kidneys are also indicated.
The most common issue with a high protein diet is that excess protein often indicates deficiency in another important food group. It’s therefore best to keep protein intake within the recommended levels.
How much protein should we eat?
The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.84gms per kg of body weight per day for a male and 0.75gms per kg of body weight per day for a female. Pregnant women, children and the elderly have slightly higher requirements. [ii]
Athletes may have higher protein requirements as they are building and repairing muscle at a faster rate however it is generally only elite athletes and body builders who need to increase their intake significantly.
What type of protein should we eat?
Protein intake should make up between 10-35% of total food energy and can come from a mixture of plant and animal sources. Examples include lean meat, eggs, tofu, quinoa, natural unsweetened yoghurt, legumes, nut butters, soy and cows milk. When consuming animal protein; lean, high quality sources are recommended.
How often should we eat protein?
The key is to spread protein consumption throughout the day, consuming approximately 20g of high quality, lean protein at each meal.
An 80g steak or a 100g chicken breast contains around 20 grams of protein. One cup of cooked lentils has approximately 18 grams of protein and can be accompanied by other high protein plant foods such as quinoa or tofu to reach the desired protein intake.
What about after exercise?
In order to stimulate muscle synthesis following strength training, it is recommended that 20-25 grams of protein is consumed within 1-4 hours after exercise. Unless exercise takes place after dinner, this can be factored into the existing protein intake during meals. Numerous studies have confirmed that 20-25g is the optimal amount for maximal muscle synthesis and exceeding this amount does not offer additional benefits . [iii]
If paleo or grain free is the preferred style of eating, a well-balanced diet can be achieved if the recommended levels of vegetables, fruit, fibre and healthy fats are also met.
Visit this page to find out how how many carbs you should eat daily.