Does Eating Too Much Protein Harm Your Kidneys?

Protein provides your body with energy and essential nutrients, and it helps you feel satisfied after eating. But can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to protein? Keep reading to learn more about how your body metabolizes protein and how much you should eat daily to stay healthy and keep your kidneys safe.

Key takeaways:

Why do you need to eat protein?

Protein is one of three macronutrients in the diet that provide your body with essential energy to function. We refer to these units of energy as calories. Every vital organ and tissue in your body relies on calories from your diet.

As well as requiring energy to function, your body also needs daily protein to stay healthy. Your body relies on protein to help build new tissues and cells, fight off infections, repair any damaged tissues, build hormones, and aid with mealtime satiety.

You should try to include a variety of protein sources in your diet to help diversify your nutrient intake. Examples of protein sources include:

  • Plant-based options. These include tofu, lentils, and other beans.
  • Lean animal options. These include poultry, fish, and extra-lean ground meat.

How much protein do you need?

The amount of protein you need is highly individualized, and the recommendation varies based on your age, level of physical activity, sex, and general health status. As a general rule of thumb, you can estimate your protein requirements by using this calculation:

  • Multiply your weight (in kg) by a factor of 1.0 g of protein.
  • A person who weighs 68 kg will need a minimum of 68 g of protein daily.
  • A very active person will need more protein, and their weight (in kg) should be multiplied by a factor of 1.2–2.0 g.
  • An active person who weighs 68 kg will need a minimum of 82 g of protein.
  • A very active person who weighs 68 kg will need a minimum of 136 g of protein.

How does protein impact kidney health?

Your kidneys perform as the central filtration system for your body. Fluids which carry minerals, electrolytes, protein molecules, and other nutrients, pass through your kidneys to be reabsorbed back into the body. Any products leftover are released from the body through urine.

When your kidneys are damaged, they cannot reabsorb nutrients and minerals properly. This can happen if you have chronic kidney disease or if you have sustained organ damage from a major accident (such as a car accident). As a result, protein can strain your kidneys to work harder, further damaging them, and the protein can leak into the urine.

Your doctor will ask you to complete urine and blood tests to measure your kidney function. Any presence of protein in the urine is a sign of kidney dysfunction and should be addressed.

Cutting back on protein

If you have a known kidney-related condition, you should reduce your protein intake. This will unburden your kidneys and prevent further straining and possible damage. Your care team will tell you the exact gram value you should aim for daily.

Healthy kidneys and protein intake

If you have no history of kidney problems, you likely do not need to worry about cutting back on your protein intake. Like all nutrients, you should aim for moderation. You do not need to double your required protein intake to try and “achieve muscle gains” — too much of anything can compromise your health. Instead, focus on creating nutritionally balanced meals that include all major food groups — this can help preserve healthy kidney function.

To create a balanced meal, you should include whole grains and high-quality starches for energy. Add a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, and add vegetarian protein sources into your menu mix (if you haven’t already). Recent research shows that shifting to a plant-forward diet can significantly impact your long-term health and reduce the risk of certain diseases and types of cancer.

Are protein supplements safe for your kidneys?

Protein powders, also called protein supplements, can be safe to include in the diet if you are not following a protein-restricted diet.

However, even though healthy kidneys can tolerate protein powder, there are still guidelines you should follow when it comes to picking a safe product. In most countries, protein powders are not regulated and in the past, these products have been cut with dangerous low-quality ingredients including various heavy metals.

To ensure you are buying a safe and reliable protein powder, research the brand and company behind the product. If they have ever been involved with investigations regarding their ingredients, you should pass on their product. Also, read through the ingredients list of a protein powder before purchasing. If there are several ingredients you don’t recognize you may want to find another option.

Healthy proteins you can eat

Food should also be your priority because it contains whole, unprocessed nutrients that your body needs to thrive. Most people will benefit from choosing lean-animal sources of protein, including:

  • Poultry with the skin removed
  • Extra-lean ground meats
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Lean dairy products
  • Seafood
  • Fish

Plant-based protein sources are naturally lean, and research suggests eating these foods at least three times a week for optimal health benefits.

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes and pulses, including kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Tofu and soy products

Some vegetables contain trace amounts of protein, such as broccoli and spinach, but it is not enough to satisfy your daily requirements. You should rely on vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and minerals and choose a more concentrated protein source to balance your meal.

Keep your kidneys healthy

You can start to make changes to keep your kidneys healthy and functional. Quitting smoking is a top recommendation because the harmful substances found in these products are extremely damaging to your vital organs.

Increase your level of physical activity, and move your body as frequently as possible. Exercise has several metabolic benefits — and your kidneys will be happy too.

Managing your blood sugar and staying on top of your overall health is vital for keeping your kidneys healthy. Remember to visit your doctor yearly (or every other year) and complete blood work and urine tests to stay updated with your medical records.

Your kidneys are resilient and play an important role in keeping you healthy. Taking proactive measures can help ensure your kidneys remain healthy for many years to come.

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