Sustainable Nutrition

High-Protein Diets: Fact vs. Fiction

Written By: Kripa Jalan

High-Protein Diets: Fact vs. Fiction

Maybe you want to lose fat. Or gain muscle. Or just be healthy.

But regardless of where you look in the fitness industry, chances are you’ve been hit with the blanket statement, “Just eat more protein.”

Maybe you’re a protein advocate. Or maybe you’re a skeptic who believes it will damage your kidneys.

Either way, we’ve got you covered. In this article, I’ll go over the evidence about high-protein diets and leave you to decide what’s best for you!

But first, why protein?

Protein is so important that without it, we could become seriously malnourished.

Dietary protein comprises smaller molecules called amino acids attached in long chains. Your body needs 20 amino acids to function. Eleven are non-essential (your body makes them), and nine are essential (you must obtain them from food). 

These amino acids are the building blocks for most stuff in our bodies. They’re like Legos that can be broken down and reassembled in different ways.

Unlike extra fat, we don’t store lots of extra amino acids. Protein is always getting used, recycled, and sometimes excreted. And, if we don’t get enough protein, our body will start to plunder it from parts that we need, such as our muscles.

So we have to constantly replenish protein by consuming it.

Other than this, this key macronutrient helps with:

  • making hormones.
  • supporting the immune system.
  • improving body composition.
  • adding satiety to meals.
  • building and repairing almost every tissue in the body. 

How much protein do we need?

Short answer: It depends.

While the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.8 g / kg/day – it’s important to note that RDAs were initially developed to prevent malnutrition i.e. represent the minimum amount of a nutrient we need to not die or get sick.

“You’re not dead” is not the same as “You’re thriving.”

The RDA is also a very general recommendation.

Now given the plethora of benefits associated with protein, it’s easy to believe more is better.

But you really want to hit the Goldilocks spot. Not too much and not too little. That amount depends on a variety of factors, including age, biological sex, underlying health concerns, and even activity levels.

3 protein myths

Claim #1: Protein causes kidney/liver damage

This began with doctors telling those with some form of existing kidney/liver disease to eat a low-protein diet. There’s a big difference between avoiding protein because you have poorly functioning kidneys that are already damaged / liver cirrhosis and protein actively damaging your healthy kidneys/liver.

Verdict: There’s no evidence that high protein diets cause kidney damage in healthy adults.

Claim #2: Protein causes cancer

Unfortunately, we still don’t have conclusive human studies on the cause of cancer and the role of protein.

Part of the proposed cancer and protein link comes down to confounding factors, like:

  • where you get your protein from - plants or animals
  • how you cook your protein
  • what types of protein you’re eating 

Verdict: Limited evidence that protein causes cancer; many other confounding factors.

Claim #3: Protein causes heart disease

Daily consumption of animal-based protein is associated with an increased risk of fatal coronary heart disease. However, this suggests more about where you get your protein from, rather than how much you eat.

Verdict: Limited evidence that protein causes heart disease and the source of protein is a major confounding factor.

What this means for you

If you’re a “regular person” (non-athlete), who just wants to be healthy and fit:

  • Focus on consuming a little bit of protein with every meal
  • Try different kinds of protein – animal and plant-based
  • Don’t feel the pressure to over-nutritionalize your food choices!

Struggling to find the sweet spot with protein? We can help! Check out our 1-1 Nutrition Coaching Program!

Whether you want to improve your health, build lean muscle, or perform better, we will teach you exactly how to figure out what and how much you should eat, assess how well your eating habits support your goals, and discover the genius method for staying on track—no matter how busy life gets.