How Much Protein Should I Eat While Going SANE (Part 2 of 2)


In the last post reviewed a small sampling of the mass of research showing that getting a balanced amount of protein (about third of our calories) from natural sources is healthy and helpful for long-term fat loss. So how did the myth that protein is bad for us get started in the first place?

The Protein is Bad for You Myth Debunked

The myth came out of studies where animals that were fed extreme amounts of protein experienced problems. However, rather than proving more protein is harmful, these studies prove that until we exceed two grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, we will get only healthier and slimmer by upping our protein intake.

“The Nurses’ Health Study is the only large prospective study to have examined the link between dietary protein and cardiovascular disease….The group of women who ate the most protein…were 25% less likely to have had a heart attack or to have died of heart disease…eating a lot of protein doesn’t harm the heart.” – W.C. Willett, Harvard University

To put two grams of protein per pound of body weight into perspective, an inactive 150-pound person would not enter the protein danger zone until they ate eleven chicken breasts per day, every day. That would total two grams of protein per pound of body weight, and would mean that 60% of their total calories were coming from protein. That is a terribly imbalanced diet and an unnatural amount of protein.

Bad things happen if we eat too much of anything. Luckily, it is nearly impossible to eat too much high-Satietyprotein. Additionally, a natural increase in our protein intake will improve our cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin regulation, while lowering our risk of cardiovascular disease. And it does not matter if the protein comes from lean meat. In fact, low levels of animal protein have been associated with an increased risk of strokes.

But The China Study Says Meat Is Deadly

Let’s focus on meat for a moment. There is nothing wrong with eating high-quality meat. Besides the fact that meat was a cornerstone of our diet for most of our evolutionary history, there is no clinical data showing that meat is unhealthy. TheJournal of the American Medical Association reviewed 147 studies on the impact of diet on health. They found zero correlation between meat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Separately, researchers found that people in England have eaten about the same amount of animal fat—the source of most of the concern with meat—since 1910. Meanwhile, the number of heart attacks increased 1,000% between 1930 and 1970. It looks like animal fat is not causing the climb.

Similarly, during basically the same period of time in the U.S., a similar increase in heart attacks occurred while the amount of animal fats being consumed dropped. Meat is not unhealthy. It is a fantastic source of protein and therefore a key part of a natural balanced diet.

But Doesn’t Protein Weaken Our Bones?

Last but not least, at some point one of your more annoying coworkers will bring up some misguided magazine article arguing that protein promotes osteoporosis. This myth comes from the fact that digesting protein requires more calcium than the digestion of fat or carbohydrates. Certain individuals claim this finding shows that eating a lot of protein will suck calcium from our bones. That is inaccurate.

“Controlled human studies show that commonly used complex dietary proteins, which have a high phosphorus content, do not cause calcium loss in adult humans.” –H. Spencer, Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital

First, you will not be eating a lot of protein. You will be eating the amount humans evolved to eat. Second, you will have no need to grab calcium from your bones since a natural balanced diet provides at least 150% more calcium than the typical U.S. diet (for example, leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of calcium. Calorie for calorie, spinach provides nearly twice the calcium as reduced-fat milk.). Third, protein digestion does not negatively impact bones if intake of the mineral phosphorus is increased, and a natural balanced diet does that.  Finally, while more protein increases the need for calcium, it also increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium. When more protein is taken in, the body automatically makes better use of calcium. Studies show that a natural level of protein increases bone density by raising levels of the protein IGF-1.

With respect to adverse effects, no protein-induced effects are observed on net bone balance or on calcium balance in young adults and elderly persons. Dietary protein even increases bone mineral mass and reduces incidence of osteoporotic fracture. – M.S. Westerterp-Plantenga, Maastricht University

The only drawback with protein is the misinformation about concentrated sources of protein. Let’s cover that in the next post.


  1. Appel LJ, Sacks FM, Carey VJ, Obarzanek E, Swain JF, Miller ER 3rd, Conlin PR, Erlinger TP, Rosner BA, Laranjo NM, Charleston J, McCarron P, Bishop LM; OmniHeart Collaborative Research Group. Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. JAMA. 2005 Nov 16;294(19):2455-64.
  2. Arciero PJ, Gentile CL, Pressman R, Everett M, Ormsbee MJ, Martin J, Santamore J, Gorman L, Fehling PC, Vukovich MD, Nindl BC. Moderate protein intake improves total and regional body composition and insulin sensitivity in overweight adults. Metabolism. 2008 Jun;57(6):757-65. PubMed PMID: 18502257.
  3. Aude YW, Agatston AS, Lopez-Jimenez F, Lieberman EH, Marie Almon, Hansen M, Rojas G, Lamas GA, Hennekens CH. The national cholesterol education program diet vs a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monounsaturated fat: a randomized trial. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Oct 25;164(19):2141-6.
  4. Committee on Diet and Health, Natiional Research Council (1989): Diet and Health. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, pp 15, 58, 59, 263-265.
  5. Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD. Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just Syndrome X. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003;136:95-112.
  6. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002; 56 (suppl 1):S42-S52.
  7. Cordain L, Miller JB, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SH, Speth JD. Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar;71(3):682-92. PubMed PMID:10702160.
  8. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Nutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.
  9. Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Rasmussen H, Song L, Dallal GE. Effect of dietary protein supplements on calcium excretion in healthy older men and women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Mar;89(3):1169-73
  10. Eaton SB, Eaton SB 3rd, Konner MJ. Paleolithic nutrition revisited: a twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;51(4):207-16. Review. PubMed PMID: 9104571.
  11. Eisenstein J, Roberts SB, Dallal G, Saltzman E: High protein weight loss diets: are they safe and do they work? A review of the experimental and epidemiologic data. Nutr Rev60 :189 –200,2002 .
  12. Farnsworth E, Luscombe ND, Noakes M, Wittert G, Argyiou E, Clifton PM. Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women.Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jul;78(1):31-9.
  13. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85. Review. PubMed PMID: 15466943.
  14. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rimm E, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:221-227.
  15. Hu FB, Willett WC. Optimal diets for prevention of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2002 Nov 27;288(20):2569-78. Review. PubMed PMID: 12444864.
  16. Hunt JR, Gallagher SK, Johnson LK, Lykken GI. High- versus low-meat diets: effects on zinc absorption, iron status, and calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc balance in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;62(3):621-32. PubMed PMID: 7661125.
  17. Iso H, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rexrode K, Hu FB, Hennekens CH, Colditz GA: Prospective study of fat and protein intake and risk of intraparenchymal hemorrhage in women. Circulation103 :856 –863,2001
  18. Kerstetter JE, O’Brien KO, Caseria DM, Wall DE, Insogna KL. The impact of dietary protein on calcium absorption and kinetic measures of bone turnover in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Jan;90(1):26-31.
  19. Kerstetter JE, O’Brien KO, Insogna KL. Dietary protein affects intestinal calcium absorption. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Oct;68(4):859-65. PubMed PMID: 9771863.
  20. Kerstetter JE, Wall DE, O’Brien KO, Caseria DM, Insogna KL. Meat and soy protein affect calcium homeostasis in healthy women. J Nutr. 2006 Jul;136(7):1890-5
  21. Komachi Y, Iida M, Shimamoto T: Geographic and occupational comparisons of risk factors in cardiovascular diseases in Japan. Jpn Circ J35 :189 –207,1971
  22. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, Painter JE, Shiue H, Sather C, Christou DD. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2003 Feb;133(2):411-7.
  23. Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Keogh JB, Foster P, Clifton PM.Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Apr;81(4):762-72
  24. McAuley KA, Hopkins CM, Smith KJ, McLay RT, Williams SM, Taylor RW, Mann JI. Comparison of high-fat and high-protein diets with a high-carbohydrate diet in insulin-resistant obese women. Diabetologia. 2005 Jan;48(1):8-16.
  25. Noakes M, Keogh JB, Foster PR, Clifton PM. Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1298-306.
  26. O’Dea K, Traianedes K, Chisholm K, Leyden H, Sinclair AJ. Cholesterol-lowering effect of a low-fat diet containing lean beef is reversed by the addition of beef fat. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990;52:491-494.
  27. O’Dea K. Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle.Diabetes. 1984 Jun;33(6):596-603. PubMed PMID: 6373464.
  28. O’Keefe JH Jr, Cordain L. Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer.  Mayo Clin Proc 2004 Jan;79(1):101-8.
  29. Pannemans DL, Schaafsma G, Westerterp KR. Calcium excretion, apparent calcium absorption and calcium balance in young and elderly subjects: influence of protein intake. Br J Nutr. 1997 May;77(5):721-9.
  30. Parker B, Noakes M, Luscombe N, Clifton P: Effect of a high protein, high monounsaturated fat weight loss diet on glycemic control and lipid levels in type-2 diabetes. Diabetes Care25 :425 –430,2002
  31. Rudman D, DiFulco TJ, Galambos JT, Smith RB 3rd, Salam AA, Warren WD. Maximal rates of excretion and synthesis of urea in normal and cirrhotic subjects. J Clin Invest. 1973 Sep;52(9):2241-9. PubMed PMID: 4727456; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC333026.
  32. Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, Chicano KL, Daily D, Mcgrory J: A low carbohydrate as compared with a low fat diet in severe obesity. N Eng J Med348 :2074 –2081,2003
  33. Shimamoto T, Komachi Y, Inada H: Trends of coronary heart disease and stroke and their risk factors in Japan. Circulation79 :503 –513,1989
  34. Skov AR, Toubro S, Bülow J, Krabbe K, Parving HH, Astrup A. Changes in renal function during weight loss induced by high vs low-protein low-fat diets in overweight subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999 Nov;23(11):1170-7.PubMed PMID: 10578207.
  35. Skov AR, Toubro S, Ronn B, Holm L, Astrup A: Randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity. Int J Obes23 :528 –536,1999
  36. Slattery ML, Randall DE. Trends in coronary heart disease mortality and food consumption in the United States between 1909 and 1980. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Jun;47(6):1060-7. PubMed PMID: 3376904.Davidson MH, Hunninghake D, Maki KC, Kwiterovich PO Jr, Kafonek S. Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs lean white meat on serum lipid levels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia: a long-term, randomized clinical trial. Arch Intern Med. 1999 Jun 28;159(12):1331-8. PubMed PMID: 10386509.
  37. Spencer H, Kramer L, Osis D, Norris C. Effect of a high protein (meat) intake on calcium metabolism in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1978 Dec;31(12):2167-80. PubMedPMID: 727162.
  38. Spencer H, Kramer L, Osis D. Do protein and phosphorus cause calcium loss? J Nutr. 1988 Jun;118(6):657-60. Review. PubMed PMID: 3286844.
  39. The Evolutionary Basis for the therapeutic Effects of High Protein Diets: http://www.cathletics.com/articles/proteinDebate.pdf
  40. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21-41. Review. PubMed PMID: 19400750.
  41. Wolfe BM, Giovannetti PM. Short term effects of substituting protein for carbohydrate in the diets of moderately hypercholesterolemic human subjects. Metabolism. 1991;40:338-343.
  42. Wolfe BM: Potential role of raising dietary protein intake for reducing risk of atherosclerosis. Can J Cardiol11(Supp G) :127 g –131 g,1995 .
  43. Yudkin J. Lancet 2, 155-162, 1957.