What is the role of protein in the body?
Proteins help the body’s cells perform everyday activities and ensure that muscles, organs, and bones function normally. Proteins also help create hormones and enzymes, and maintain a healthy immune system.
What happens when you eat too much protein?
Your body needs only a modest amount of protein to function well. Consuming extra protein may not benefit your body. Excess protein, if not efficiently utilised by the body, may impose a metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver, which may lead to health issues.
How much protein is too much?
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) is the minimum daily levels of nutrients required to meet the needs of nearly all healthy individuals in a particular age and gender group. Singapore’s RDA for protein is 68 grams for males (adult) and 58 grams for females (adult). Following the RDA may be enough to prevent deficiency, but the optimal amount of daily protein for individuals depends on their age, activity levels, muscle mass, total diet and current state of health.
Who needs more protein?
An individual's protein intake varies at different stages of life and depends on the status of their health. Individuals who may need protein supplements include individuals suffering from malnutrition, the elderly, those who are unable to chew or swallow, people with sarcopenia and pregnant women or mothers who are breastfeeding.
Health conditions where a high protein diet should be avoided
Though proteins are essential for normal health, there are conditions in which caution should be exercised. Cutting back on protein is recommended for people with pre-existing kidney problems such as chronic renal disease and kidney stones. Studies also report that following a low-protein diet may be helpful for patients with diabetes-induced kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy).
Lifelong, low-protein diets are the primary treatment for individuals with inherited protein disorders such as Phenylketonuria and Homocystinuria. As a result of these disorders, the enzyme required to break down the amino acids, the "building blocks" of protein, is often lacking. This causes amino acids to accumulate in the person's blood and brain, which can lead to severe consequences such as brain damage.
When to see a doctor?
It's wise to consult your doctor and dietitian before initiating a high protein diet, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
We all need varying amounts of protein and many factors may impact the individual needs. The main goal should be achieving a proper balance of nutrients in our diets, and leading an active lifestyle with regular exercise.
Article reviewed by Louis Yap, senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital
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