Oh fad diets — they can be tempting to try, but can also be awful sometimes. There are so many out there, but one of longest-lasting trends is probably that of the high-protein, low-carb diet. However, did you know you can overdo it? Consider some signs you’re eating too much protein, and you might realize consuming more than the recommended amount of protein — especially over long periods of time — can be detrimental to your body in various ways.
Let’s begin with this: How much protein should we actually be consuming?
"Individual protein needs vary based on age and stage in the life cycle as well as health status," registered dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition tells Bustle. "However, the average person without a complicated health history needs about .8g of protein per kg of body weight each day, or .36g per pound."
Again, though, as Feller iterates, your protein consumption based on individual need — you may fluctuate from that standard based on a lot of different factors, and maybe even some as simple as preferring foods that are high in protein over others. But this is still a better marker than the daily recommended standard you see on nutrition labels, which only accounts for people eating an average of 2,000 calories a day — another marker that varies widely from person to person.
That said, if you're concerned you're eating too much protein, there are signs you're getting too much of it. "Constipation, dehydration and bad breath may be some signs that you are eating too much protein," Feller tells Bustle. Here are the specifics to watch out for.
1. You're Experiencing Constipation
"Constipation typically happens when the ratio of protein and fat are high while carbohydrate intake is low," Feller tells Bustle. In high-protein diets, or "fad" versions of them like paleo and keto, the body is not only having to adjust to a major change in its source of nutrients, but also how to process them. As noted by Harvard Health, this may have less to do with the protein itself, but what it's replacing — if your body is used to consuming more fibrous foods in carbohydrates, which help pass stool along, it may react to the lack of it with constipation.
2. You're Dehydrated
This one's a sneakier sign, because often we don't realize we're dehydrated, or the full extent of it. That said, it's still an important sign to watch out for, particularly because of all the processes in your body that dehydration can affect.
"Dehydration may happen because the body is flushing out the components of the amino acids leading to increased water losses," Feller explains to Bustle. While you can combat this by making a concentrated effort to stay more hydrated when you're upping the amount of protein you consume, it's important to keep in mind in case you find yourself experiencing the side effects of dehydration, like dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, and darker or less frequent urination.
3. Your Breath Smells Bad
This warning sign has become so well-known in the keto community that it's earned itself a name: "keto breath." Feller notes that "[Y]ou have increased bad breath if your body goes into ketosis," which is exactly what happens when "keto breath."
Ketosis, according to Harvard Health, is a state in which the body starts burning fat for fuel when it lacks carbohydrates; this process creates "ketones," another molecule for energy. A 2017 study on Ketogenic diets published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health notes that this state is thought to take at least 21 days to achieve. People may try to achieve it for various reasons, related to health, diet, or sports performance, but one consequence of using ketones is that it does appear to have a stark effect on the smell of some people's breath — and may be a sign for some individuals that their protein intake is too high.
4. You Experience More Longterm Damage
Constipation, dehydration, and bad breath may be short-term signs that you're eating too much protein, but what about the longer term signs?
"Longterm signs of excessive protein intake may be kidney damage in people who are predisposed to having problems clearing excess nitrogen via the kidneys," Feller explains to Bustle. "Increased risk of heart disease has been associated with a high consumption of animal proteins over time."
The National Kidney Foundation iterates this same concern, explaining that while protein needs vary widely across people with kidney problems, "If you have kidney disease, you may need to watch how much protein you eat. Having too much protein can cause waste to build up in your blood. Your kidneys may not be able to remove all the extra waste."
A 2010 study published in Circulation found that the phenomenon of heart disease associated with excess animal protein is especially a risk for women. "In this prospective cohort study with 26 years of follow-up, we observed that a higher consumption of red meat was associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease]," the study's authors reported. "The positive association was independent of established dietary and nondietary cardiovascular risk factors as well as fruit and vegetable intake. When compared with red meat, intakes of dairy, poultry, fish, and especially nuts were associated with substantially lower risk of coronary disease."
Protein is a necessary component of our diet, but as discussed here, we should be mindful not to consume too much of it regularly. If any of these signs seem familiar to you, it might be time to cut back — or at the very least, be more strategic about where you're getting your protein.
"The source of protein matters. You can reduce your intake of proteins from red meats and increase the proportion coming from plant-based sources and seafood," Feller tells Bustle. "I would also suggest reaching out to a qualified healthcare provider for individualized evidence-based advice."
This post was first published on March 17, 2016. It was updated on June 7, 2019.