High Protein Wrecks Your Kidneys… Except It Doesn’t
In February 1977, a dense (in both meanings of the term) publication called “Dietary Goals for the United States” shot out of the cloistered halls of Congress and into the public mind.
It blithers and tortures the language as only government reports can. If you have trouble falling asleep, plow through the original’s typewritten pages here.
But its bottom-line recommendation was clear. Americans should eat more carbohydrate and less fat.
Obesity and Type 2 diabetes began ratcheting skyward almost immediately afterward.
The guidelines have shifted somewhat in the last few decades, but despite the horrific results of this report, official distrust of fat continues today — along with a distrust of fat’s common companion, protein.
The Recommended Daily Intake suggests that as part of a 2,000 calorie daily diet, adults take in just 50 grams of protein.
That’s about 1.7 ounces.
Because fat and protein are “bundled” in many healthful foods such as beef, eggs, and whole-milk cheese and yogurt, it’s easy to consume two or three times that amount of protein when following a high-fat, low-carb (HFLC) diet.
And a HFLC diet is the kind of diet that many scientifically informed health writers in 2015 – including, I daresay, me — recommend.
So what, exactly, is the hazard?
Why, too much protein destroys the kidneys!
This is yet another dietary “fact” that “everyone knows.” I used to think there was some truth to it myself.
But here’s the real story:
There is some evidence that people with established kidney disease should restrict their protein consumption.
However, diving into the scientific literature, it’s striking how resoundingly researchers have rejected the “high protein wrecks the kidneys” argument when it comes to people with normal kidneys:
“After an extensive review of athletes and others who consume high-protein diets, researchers concluded that when it comes to the kidneys — as well as to bone density, heart function, liver function, blood pressure, and lean body mass — no detriment was seen.” 1
Specifically, this study in Nutrition & Metabolism found that protein intakes up to 243 percent of the recommended amounts did not impair kidney function.
Why? Coming to a similar conclusion, a Finnish researcher pointed out:
“The typical Paleolithic diet compared with the average modern American diet contained three-four times more protein. It is implausible that an animal that adapted to a high-protein diet for 5 million years suddenly in 10,000 years becomes a predominant carbohydrate burner.” 2
In fact, a high protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure and help reverse Type 2 diabetes, and these are two of the biggest risk factors for kidney failure. 3
Bottom line: The truth is that low-fat, low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets are tough on kidneys. If you want to avoid kidney damage and a host of related ills, eat more fat — especially saturated fat — and protein and significantly less carbohydrate.
Editor, Natural Health Solutions
1 William F Martin, Lawrence E Armstrong, Nancy R Rodriguez. Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & Metabolism. Sept. 2005
2 Anssi H Manninen. High-Protein Weight Loss Diets and Purported Adverse Effects: Where is the Evidence? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. May 2004.
3 Altorf-van der Kuil W1, Engberink MF, Brink EJ, van Baak MA, Bakker SJ, Navis G, van ‘t Veer P, Geleijnse JM. Dietary protein and blood pressure: a systematic review
PLoS One. Aug. 2010.
Written By Brad Lemley
Brad Lemley is a science and health writer and former senior correspondent for The Washington Post and Discover magazine. He is a tireless advocate for safe, natural, self-directed healthy living practices and therapies.
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