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The Nutrition InvestigatorThe health and nutrition blog by Dr. Roc Ordman.

How much protein can you safely eat for your diet?

by Roc (click here for full post)

We are fortunate to have many distinguished nutrition researchers who read what I announce at Nutrition Investigator. Despite good intention and research, I make mistakes, and am deeply grateful for corrections, in this case from Australia. I had been asked how much protein was safe in a high protein diet, and gave the answer found at a US government website. Our reader sent one that appears much better and more thoroughly documented. He wrote:

“Re protein safety – protein intake really should not be determined as a percent of calories but per kg body wt (see Wolfe RR, Miller SL. The recommended dietary allowance of protein: a misunderstood concept. JAMA. 2008;299(24):2891-2893).” The effect of protein on diet will also be in part determined by protein intake timing as well as the ratio and makeup of the other dietary macro-components (CHO/fat) and particularly the intake of fruit and vegetables.”

Based on that, I have read the JAMA commentary. Here are extracts from it:

The terms recommendation and requirement used in the “Dietary Reference Intakes” (DRI) are confusing to people. The AMDR is defined as “a range of intakes for a particular energy source that is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases while providing adequate intakes of essential nutrients.”The AMDR for protein is 10-35%. So how much protein can someone safely consume? The daily energy requirement of a sedentary 19-year-old reference man (76 kg and 1.76 m tall) is estimated to be 37.8 kcal/kg/d in the section on energy requirements in the DRI. Ten percent of this caloric intake translates to a protein intake of 0.95 g/kg/d and 35% of energy intake translates to 3.3 g/kg/d. The US Department of Agriculture adopted a recommended daily protein intake of 0.8 g/kg/d, below even the 10% level. The DRI indicated that there is no tolerable upper intake level for protein. The American Heart Association states that the average American consumes too much protein, but they consume about 15%, which is at the low end of the 10-35% range.

The commentary makes it sound like we all could benefit from much more protein in the diet. And if one goes to the DRIs, you can find your proper energy intake, range of safe protein intakes, etc. However, further online research found that authors of the JAMA commentary are funded by, and one was previously employed by, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. When JAMA discovered this undisclosed conflict of interest, they published a note of concern.

For me, the level of detail in the commentary becomes too complicated for the average person. My advantage as a liberal arts professor is that I look for clear guidelines. It is clear most of us are dramatically deficient in fruits and vegetables, that consumption of livestock is hazardous because of its effect on global warming, and that it takes 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. I was struck by an article in the New Yorker that stated in the future, we will look back on people who eat animals today, “carnivores”, like we look at “cannibals” today. A range of 10 to 35% of energy from protein is likely to be safe. But avoiding red meat, filling up on fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of exercise and happiness, avoiding stress, and being conscious of what you put in your body is my recipe for health.

Needless to say, reader questions are always welcome, and reader’s wisdom is deeply appreciated.

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Roc Ordman

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