Every cell in your body needs protein, especially when it comes to building muscle and lean tissue. However, too much protein can be damaging to your body. Eating a little extra protein every now and then will not likely produce any symptoms, but a constantly high intake can hurt your kidneys and make it harder for your body to obtain other important nutrients.
Dangers of Too Much Protein
After your body breaks down protein, it sends waste products to your kidneys so the waste can leave your body for good. But the more protein you consume, the more waste products there are and the harder your kidneys need to work. As a result, excessive protein consumption can be rough on your kidneys. This can especially be a problem if you already have diabetes or chronic kidney disease. In addition, your body uses water to get rid of this waste, so high protein consumption uses up a lot of water and can leave your body dehydrated.
Too Little Protein
Before you pass on that chicken or steak, keep in mind that eating too little protein can be just as dangerous as eating too much protein. Your body needs protein -- if it cannot get protein from your diet, it will take it from your muscle stores. As a result, insufficient protein intake can cause your muscles to waste. Besides, foods high in protein often contain other important vitamins and minerals, such as phosphorus and iron. If you skip out on these foods, you may miss out on protein as well as these nutrients.
Optimizing Your Protein Intake
Not all protein is created equal. For example, protein sources like red meat and dairy may contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. These are the food components that can be dangerous in high amounts and may increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke or cancer. Although a nice steak contains high amounts of protein, do not sacrifice fruits and vegetables for its sake. Make sure to include vegetable-based protein sources too. Certain beans such as lentils and black beans contain high amounts of protein, as do grains like quinoa and bulgur.
Protein Consumption in the American Diet
Men should aim to consume 56 grams of protein daily while women should strive for 46 grams daily. Given the many protein supplements on the market, you might think that these levels are hard to reach. But in fact, most Americans easily meet these recommendations. A study published in the May 2008 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that only 8 percent of adult women failed to consume the daily recommended intake of protein.
Lauren Elizabeth is a health and fitness professional based in upstate New York. She earned her master's degree in nutrition communications. Elizabeth has written for nonprofit organizations and universities, focusing on nutrition, physical health and mental health.