Medically reviewed by Kelly Van Gorden, MS, RD, CD
Everything You Need to Know About a High Protein Diet
The high protein diet has been gaining traction in recent years, and for seemingly good reason. You always hear great things about protein, especially from bodybuilders and personal trainers. It's an essential component of fulfilling our body's daily needs, but how much do you really know about it?
Eating protein can help you feel full—making the high protein diet popular for those trying to lose weight—but, depending on an individual’s genetic makeup, large quantities of protein and low carbs isn’t always the best option.
Get to know protein more intimately and learn to change your relationship with it for the better. In this article, we’re covering everything you need to know about the high protein diet and how your genes can tell you what’s best for your body.
What Is a High Protein Diet?
In comparison to a standard diet, a high protein diet indicates that you are consuming a larger percentage of calories from protein. A high protein diet includes approximately 25–35 percent of total calories from daily protein intake, while the U.S. government-recommended standard diet contains 10–35 percent—or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram, per the RDA (recommended dietary allowance; 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds).1
You may need more or less based on your health goals. For instance, trying to build muscle mass quickly or having health concerns like wound healing after surgery might require an increased protein intake. Alternatively, conditions such as kidney disease require a decreased intake. If you have blood sugar issues, you should be especially careful not to make any drastic changes to your diet without consulting your health care team, as adjusting your macronutrients may impact your blood sugars.
Use these figures as a jumping-off point to see how the amount you’re consuming stacks up against the “norm.” At this point, we’re ready to explore some ideas on what you can eat if you want to pursue a high protein diet.
Which Foods Can You Eat on a High Protein Diet?
High protein foods include sources of animal protein—including meats, dairy, fish, and eggs. Don’t fret if you are vegetarian or vegan, as there are several great plant-based sources of protein too. Some plant-based protein sources include legumes, tofu, quinoa, and nuts. Keep in mind though that nuts are often higher in fat than protein.
Another thing to make note of when considering a high protein diet is the fact that most people tend to meet—or even exceed—their protein needs without even trying. For instance, you may already be on your way to a high protein diet if you’ve been having breakfasts that include eggs with sautéed vegetables and a piece of fruit.
When it comes to an easy high-protein lunch, you might want to try salad greens topped with salmon, walnuts, feta cheese, quinoa, and a simple vinaigrette dressing. For a snack, throw some berries and granola into Greek yogurt. It can be plain or a flavor of your choosing (but adding natural flavoring is always best).
For dinner, you could grill a chicken breast and pair it with vegetables, a glass of milk, and half of a baked potato. This meal is balanced and high in protein.
Read on to explore some potential benefits and disadvantages to a high protein diet so you can be properly equipped to make a decision on what you want to do.
What Are the Potential Benefits to a High Protein Diet?
One potential benefit of eating a high protein diet is that it can help you lose weight without the loss of lean muscle mass.2 Protein also helps with satiety and can keep you fuller longer so you don’t feel the need to binge. In fact, carriers of the FTO allele are known to have had a greater reduction in weight and fat distribution in response to a high protein diet.3
Improved glucose control—especially when pairing protein with carbohydrates rather than eating carbohydrates alone—is also a reported possible benefit. Taking it a step further, carriers of the T allele of the DHCR7 gene may have decreased insulin resistance when consuming a moderately high protein diet.4
What Are the Disadvantages of a High Protein Diet?
On the other hand, the potential disadvantages of eating a high protein diet include a possible increased intake of saturated fats. Saturated fats, which come from animal sources, are linked to heart disease. One way to avoid this is to choose lean meat and dairy products. Some highly processed sources of protein, such as sausages, are also high in sodium and may be linked to cancer and hypertension. When it comes to DNA, individuals with variants in the APOA5 gene who consume high volumes of saturated fatty acids have an increased risk of obesity.5 Excess protein can also place excess strain on kidney function.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that consuming high protein foods is still consuming extra calories. So, if you increase your protein intake without modifying portions of fats or carbohydrates, it could lead to additional stored fat.
Another argument is that any diet that emphasizes one macronutrient at the expense of another could mean your body is missing out on key micronutrients. It’s always ideal to consume a variety of foods to cover all of your macro- and micronutrient needs. We always recommend consulting with your primary doctor or dietitian to make sure that any substantial diet changes you make don’t leave dangerous gaps in your overall diet.
Should You Consider a High Protein Diet?
When asking yourself this question, it’s helpful to think about it in terms of what your genes say. Everyone is different because each person is made up of their own unique codes that help dictate how their system reacts to the world around it—especially when it comes to choosing what food to consume.
The high protein diet might work quite well for you and be unsuccessful for someone else, or vice versa. In order to save time and zero in on the right nutrition for your body from the start, try using your genes as a roadmap to better nutrition.
This way, you’ll harness the ability to make protein work better for you. We want you to be able to put the power of protein to work in the most efficient way. Before following a fad diet, try something based on your body's individual science. Your DNA is one of a kind; therefore, your diet shouldn't just follow someone else's—someone who is different from you.
If you’re ready to find out more about what your genes can tell you about your nutrition, take a look at this FREE sample report. It will give you a sense of what a DNA-based personalized nutrition plan could be like and whether you might like to try the real thing to reap the full benefits!
1. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2005. doi:10.17226/10490.
2. Alamshah A, Spreckley E, Norton M, et al. l-phenylalanine modulates gut hormone release and glucose tolerance, and suppresses food intake through the calcium-sensing receptor in rodents. International Journal of Obesity. 2017;41(11):1693-1701. doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.164.
3. Zhang X, Qi Q, Zhang C, et al. FTO Genotype and 2-Year Change in Body Composition and Fat Distribution in Response to Weight-Loss Diets: The POUNDS LOST Trial. Diabetes. 2012;61(11):3005-3011. doi:10.2337/db11-1799.
4. Qi Q, Zheng Y, Huang T, et al. Vitamin D metabolism-related genetic variants, dietary protein intake and improvement of insulin resistance in a 2 year weight-loss trial: POUNDS Lost. Diabetologia. 2015;58(12):2791-2799. doi:10.1007/s00125-015-3750-1.
5. Domínguez-Reyes T, Astudillo-López CC, Salgado-Goytia L, et al. Interaction of dietary fat intake with APOA2, APOA5 and LEPR polymorphisms and its relationship with obesity and dyslipidemia in young subjects. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2015;14(1). doi:10.1186/s12944-015-0112-4.
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