There’s been a lot of buzz this week about a column in the New York Times on the potential consequences of eating “too much” protein.
Well columnist Roni Rabin worries that the popularity of protein powders, drinks, and bars are “making it possible to effortlessly consume protein in amounts that far exceed dietary recommendations.”
She goes on to write that “the vast majority of Americans already get more than the recommended daily amounts of protein.”
But are they really? The Institutes of Medicine–a relatively conservative bunch–recommends that we get between 10 and 35% of our calories from protein. For a 150 pound adult, that translates into a range of 55 to 180 grams of protein per day.
The lower figure (which is often invoked as the “recommended intake”) represents the minimum amount needed to prevent protein deficiency. The higher figure (35%) is not based on any known consequences from eating more protein than that. It’s intended to ensure that you’re getting enough of other nutrients.
I have not heard a single suggestion that this recommended range should be adjusted to lower the top end–although there are several prominent scientists arguing to raise the lower end.
But let’s get back to what people are really eating, what with all the protein powders, bars, drinks and the current “protein craze.”
According to the most recent NHANES data, the average American male takes in about 100 grams of protein per day. This is not more than the recommended daily amount. This is more than the recommended daily minimum but significantly less than the suggested maximum.
In fact, the average protein consumption for men and women of all age groups is about 16% of calories. Even those in the top 90% percentile of protein consumption only get 20% of their calories from protein. So what is all the angst about?
Is it possible that those in the 99th percentile or the 99.99th percentile are, in fact, taking in 300 grams of protein a day? Sure. But how many people are we talking about here?
Rabin’s column headline asks a question that the subsequent article never answers: Can You Get Too Much Protein?
Of course you can get too much protein, just like you can get too much water, or fiber, or vitamin A. How much is too much? According to the guidelines provided by the Institutes of Medicine, it would appear that few of us have reason to worry.
(And if you are, in fact, eating 300 grams of protein per day, stop. It’s not doing you any more good than 150 grams would. Eat something else instead,)