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4 Signs You May Be Eating Too Much Protein

author image Lea Basch, M.S., RD
Lea Basch, M.S., RD is the registered dietitian for The Tasteful Pantry. Lea has been in the nutrition industry for over 30 years and was one of the founders of Longmont United Hospital’s nutrition program in Boulder, Colorado. She's a diabetes educator and focuses on gluten-free diets and food intolerances.
Protein is good for you, but don't go overboard.
Protein is good for you, but don't go overboard. Photo Credit Pavlo Kucherov/AdobeStock

Protein is essential for your health for many reasons: People who are trying to lose weight usually follow a low-carb, high-protein diet.

Protein helps keep you feeling full and satisfied after a meal and provides the fuel for your workouts. But have you ever wondered whether you can eat too much protein?

Read More: How Much Protein Is Right for You?

The answer to that isn’t quite so cut-and-dried: The amount of protein that’s right for you depends on many factors, such as age, sex, weight, activity level and health goals.

The Institute of Medicine recommends 46 grams of protein per day for the average adult woman and 56 grams per day for the average adult male. Athletes, seniors, people recovering from injuries or illness and pregnant or lactating women need about 25 percent more protein.

But most Americans eat about 100 grams of protein per day, which is the equivalent of eating three five-ounce steaks a day!

Signs That You’re Eating Too Much Protein:

Is the number on the scale creeping up?
Is the number on the scale creeping up? Photo Credit nito/AdobeStock

1. You’re Gaining Weight

If you increase your protein intake without decreasing other foods in your diet, you’ll have an excess of protein and calories. And if you have a sedentary lifestyle and eat excess protein — or excess anything — you will gain weight.

Feeling thirsty?
Feeling thirsty? Photo Credit radekprocyk/AdobeStock

2. You’re Dehydrated

Excess protein is filtered out of your body by your kidneys. A by-product of protein metabolism is nitrogen. The kidneys use water to flush out the nitrogen, which creates a dehydrating effect. When you decrease carbs, your body retains less fluid as well.

3. You’re Having Digestive Issues

Have nausea, indigestion, diverticulitis or constipation? When you increase meat, fish, chicken, cheese and other dairy on a high-protein diet and don’t eat enough fiber, the kidneys use excess water to rid your body of nitrogen and you can develop constipation.

Too much protein also puts a strain on your digestive enzymes, which can lead to digestive issues.

4. You’ve Got Bad Breath and Headaches

In a diet low in carbs with increased protein and fat, your body may go into a state of ketosis. In ketosis, your body is burning fat for fuel instead of carbs. Bad breath and headaches are a side effect of ketosis.

Read More: 13 Surprising Vegetarian Sources of Protein

The biggest potential problem with following a high-protein diet is that you may not be getting enough fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, all of which are found in grains, vegetables and fruits.

So what can you do? Switch some of your protein sources to plant-based proteins, which will then provide you with these other needed nutrients.

Legumes are a great alternative source of protein.
Legumes are a great alternative source of protein. Photo Credit Lukas Gojda/AdobeStock

Here are some higher-protein plant sources:

Beans (1 cup = 15 grams)

Soybeans (1 cup cooked = 29 grams)

Lentils (1/2 cup cooked = 9 grams)

Oatmeal (1 cup cooked = 6 grams)

Quinoa (1 cup cooked = 8 grams)

Brown rice (1 cup cooked = 5 grams)

Buckwheat (1 cup cooked = 6 grams)

Try getting some of your protein from plant foods.
Try getting some of your protein from plant foods. Photo Credit nata_vkusidey/AdobeStock

If you’re limiting grains and carbs, try these protein-filled options:

Almonds (1/4 cup = 4 grams)

Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup = 6 grams)

Peanut butter (2 tablespoons = 8 grams)

Almond butter (2 tablespoons = 7 grams)

Spinach (1 cup cooked = 5 grams)

Tofu (5 ounces/firm = 12 grams)

Hemp seed (3 tablespoons = 11 grams)

(Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference)

Keep in mind that all plant-based sources of protein don’t have all of the essential amino acids your body needs like animal proteins do. But if you eat a variety of whole foods throughout the day, you’ll likely get all the amino acids that you need.

As always, moderation is key: For a healthy, balanced diet, eat a combination of plant and animal sources of protein and a good amount of vegetables with some whole grains and low-glycemic fruits.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you know how much protein you eat per day? Do you know how much protein you need to eat? Have you ever suffered any of the physical effects mentioned above? Do you eat plant- or animal-based proteins? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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