Can You Have 'Too Much' Protein?

Can You Have 'Too Much' Protein?

Updated: Mar 26, 2024Veronika Larisova

When it comes to diet and exercise, no one approach fits all. Even optimal protein intake varies depending on individual factors such as age, genetics, weight, activity level, and overall health. Generally, a moderately high protein intake is considered safe for healthy individuals.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the minimum requirement

There is no universally agreed-upon threshold for "too much" protein intake that applies to everyone. However, some healthcare professionals and organisations provide general guidelines. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein intake in healthy adults is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, this is a minimum requirement to prevent deficiencies and may not be sufficient for certain populations, such as athletes or older adults.

Is too much protein bad for your kidneys?

The impact of a diet rich in protein on kidney health is a subject of ongoing discussion and relies on various factors, including an individual's health condition. Moderately high protein consumption is generally considered safe for most people in good health. However, individuals with pre-existing kidney issues, such as chronic kidney disease, may need to carefully monitor their protein intake.

Consuming excessive amounts of protein has the potential to burden the kidneys, as their role involves filtering waste substances from the bloodstream. Protein breakdown produces waste products like ammonia and urea, which the kidneys must eliminate. Some studies indicate that a consistently high protein intake over an extended period might potentially hasten the progression of existing kidney problems or heighten the risk of kidney disease.

However, it is important to note that the current evidence on this matter is inconclusive. Other studies have not discovered a significant connection between diets rich in protein and impaired kidney function in individuals without underlying health conditions.

Some studies such as a large population-based prospective study of Japanese men and women found that higher total, animal protein, and seafood intake were associated with a lower risk of chronic kidney disease. Factors such as overall dietary quality, hydration levels, and individual health conditions contribute to kidney health.

In a nutshell, ultra-processed foods, dehydration, certain medications and supplements, and smoking will harm your kidneys before protein does.

Choose your protein wisely

While consuming higher amounts of protein from good quality sources such as whole foods (whether animals or plants) is healthy, a high protein intake from ultra-processed foods can seriously harm your kidneys. This study from 2022 found that for each extra portion of highly processed foods consumed, there was a 5% increased likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease.

However, substituting one daily serving of ultra-processed food with minimally processed alternatives was linked to a 6% reduction in the risk of developing incident chronic kidney disease. Several recent studies also concluded that consuming ultra-processed foods harms our kidneys and if you swap a highly processed salami and bacon for grass-fed and grass-finished organic meat that’s not chargrilled (such as our beef bars and biltong), you can enjoy higher than recommended protein intake and reap all the health benefits from it. 



 Veronika Larisova 
 Co-Founder, Registered Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist



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