How Much Protein Is Too Much?

By Dr Ernst
February 20, 2018

As you likely know, we are big proponents of the ketogenic diet. That means high fat, moderate protein, low carbs. Our general recommendation is that you eat 60-70% healthy fats, 20-30% protein and the rest carbs, preferably from vegetable sources.

One issue we see coming up fairly regularly is that people have a hard time eating such a fat-dominant diet and, knowing that carbs cannot be a substitute, end up eating a more protein-heavy diet.

But it is important to keep that ratio in the range mentioned above, and this article is to explain exactly why that is the case.


First, let’s get the easy one out of the way: carbohydrates. The Standard American Diet is carb-loaded. Too many of us subsist off of bread, pizza, noodles, pastries, bagels, etc. Carbohydrates themselves are an issue because they are immediately converted to sugar as soon as they are consumed. For my diabetics, thyroid condition-sufferers, those trying to lower inflammation or lose weight, this is a big problem. Sugar (or carbs) will absolutely stop any progress in those areas.

Beyond that, most carb foods are made with toxic wheat. That’s a whole post of its own, so just click the link if you want more info, but let’s just accept it for now and move on.


Here is the “meat” of the problem. All too often, we get people going protein-heavy with their diet. Let’s take a look at several things that can happen in that scenario.

Protein and the kidneys

A diet consistently high in protein wears out the kidneys. All animal proteins, when broken down, release nitrates as a byproduct. The kidneys have to process this for expulsion. While it’s generally not an issue for people with healthy kidneys, if you have diabetes or a pre-existing kidney condition, any more than 50g protein for women, and 60g protein for men, can exacerbate existing issues.

Protein and aging

There is a mechanism in your body called mTOR (which stands for the mammalian target of rapamycin) that regulates three important hormones: leptin, insulin, and insulin-like growth factor (IGF).

Without getting too “sciencey,” these hormones and the mTOR pathway determine if your cells decide to replicate or simply stay the same and wait for a better time to divide and reproduce.

Aging occurs a teeny-tiny bit every time your cells replicate, because the copy is just ever-so-slightly not quite as whole as the original. This is some pretty cutting edge longevity research here, a field that is blowing a lot of minds right now.

Imagine it as if you took a paper document, copied it in a Xerox machine. You know how the quality isn’t quite as sharp with the copied document? Now take the copied document and copy that. Do it over and over and over. Eventually, the document will become unreadable. Your cells undergo a similar degradation. It’s a function of the endpoints of your chromosomes, called telomeres, that become slightly shorter with every replication.

What does this have to do with protein?

When you eat protein, your body releases IGF in response. IGF then signals to the mTOR pathway to tell your cells to replicate rather than stay as-is. The more protein, the more cell replication, the quicker the degradation of the telomeres, the faster you age.

Protein and cancer

Not only is there a proven link between processed meats and colon cancer, an over-abundance of amino acids (the building blocks of any protein) suppress a compound in the body called rapamycin, which by inhibiting mTOR and cell division, also inhibits cancer–as cancer is uncontrolled cell division.

What does this mean for me?

Am I saying be a vegetarian? Absolutely not. Protein is a necessary component of a good diet. Not only is it the building block of so many of the body’s tissues, animal protein is often the best source of certain nutrients like Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Heme-iron and Zinc.

I highly recommend people eat animal proteins, just not more than 30% of their diet should consist of it.

The natural question for most people interested in the ketogenic diet is:

How do I eat that much fat?

Here’s the good news. When you think of it in terms of calories (as you should), it becomes a lot less intimidating.

Say you are eating–in general–a 2000 calorie diet. And you have your bulletproof coffee in the morning with a Tablespoon of grass-fed butter. That’s 100 calories right there. You’re at 5% of your calorie needs.

Then for lunch you have a salad with a whole avocado, a teaspoon or so of flax seeds sprinkled over it and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. That’s 500 calories, not counting the lettuce or any other veggies you’ve got in your salad.

For a snack, you eat 1/2 cup of mixed nuts. That’s 400 calories. You’re already at 50% of your daily calorie intake and that’s just in fats. Let’s say you have a piece of salmon for dinner (which counts as fats and protein). That’s another 400 calories. 70% of your diet is now fats.

It’s not that difficult when you realize how filling and nutrient-rich healthy fats can be.

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