Do Americans Eat Too Much Protein?

Some claim that we are eating twice as much protein as we should, but the facts seem to say otherwise. Nutrition Diva gets to the bottom of the controversy.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #306

What's Behind the Anti-Protein Movement?

  1. Protein is not the same as meat. A lot of times, when people say we eat too much protein, what they really mean is that we eat too much meat. Many people feel that the amount of meat we consume is not sustainable from an ecological or environmental point of view. Others point out that the land, water, and other resources that we currently use to raise meat could feed a lot more people if we used them to produce other types of food. These are all valid arguments. But protein is not the same as meat. You can eat 100 grams of protein a day without consuming any meat - and no one seems to worry that this would be unhealthful.  

  2. How you prepare it matters.  It may also be true that we tend to eat protein in ways that are not terribly good for us - in the form of cured and processed meats that contain nitrates or smoked and char-broiled meats that contain carcinogens. Avoiding these foods might well make you diet healthier. But that has nothing to do with their protein content.

  3. Portion control matters. Finally, you could argue that we are simply eating too much of everything, including protein. Cutting back on portion sizes could help reduce overweight and obesity. But that's not about cutting protein per se. That's about cutting calories. In fact, if you want to cut calories from your diet, I'd suggest trimming calories from refined carbohydrates first before youstart reducing your protein intake.

See also: Are Some Calories More Fattening Than Others?


Protein Is Not the Problem

If you want to try to convince people that they'd be better off if they ate less meat, or ate a bit less of everything, you have my blessing. But let's leave protein out of it. There are many excesses in the American diet but protein is not one of them. 

Thoughts, comments, questions, or arguments about this or any other nutrition topic? Post them below in the Comments section or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you!


Fulgoni VL 3rd. Current protein intake in America: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition    Examination Survey, 2003-2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1554S-1557S.

Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate. Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (2002/2005).  www.nap.edu

Sandwich image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.