Dietary Protein Recommendations

A reader wrote to me about protein recommendations in Dr. Fuhrman's diet (Eat To Live). The reader suggested that consuming 20% (or more) of one's daily calories from planted-based protein is a good thing to do. His comment inspired me to summarize what I think I know about protein recommendations and healthy diets.

The evidence I’ve seen shows two things:

  1. Consuming excess animal protein is more dangerous than consuming excess vegetable protein.
  2. Consuming excess protein from either source (animal or vegetable) can have negative health effects.

The China Study research indicates that increasing protein intake over 10%, even when the protein is from vegetable sources, increases disease risk. It also found that excessive animal protein was much more dangerous than plant protein. But the concerns related to excessive protein consumption apply to protein from either animal or vegetable sources. All protein has nitrogen, and when excess protein is burned as an energy source, harmful nitrogen-containing compounds are created. These compounds may be toxic to the body.

My own quick calculations show that Dr. Fuhrman’s protein recommendations (as published in his book) are closer to 13-15% of calories, rather than 22-24%, as the reader suggested. (However, maybe Dr. Fuhrman has published information that is not contained in his book and that I haven't seen on his web site or in his emails. If anyone has his explicit recommendations for % calories from protein, please let me know.)

I would be very cautious about consuming twenty, or more, percent of your calories from protein, even if this all comes from plant proteins. Protein in the range of 13-15% of calories might be OK when it is from plant-based sources, but as far as I know that range has not been well-researched, much less proven safe.

We know, without a doubt, that consuming more than about 10% of our daily calories as animal protein is unhealthy. I have not seen any solid research that suggests it is good (or even neutral) to consume more than that from plant-based protein. (If anyone does know of research showing this, I’d like to know about it.)

Many athletes may need to reconsider their diets because athletes commonly add extra protein and often consume more than 20% of their calories from protein. The same is true for average people who make an effort to eat low fat diets - a side effect is often excess protein consumption (to the point of being dangerous).

There has been at least one (older) study I know of that showed athletes’ performance improved after they switched from a 100 gm/day animal protein diet to a 50 gm/day vegetable protein diet. Dr. Paavo Airola cites this study in Are You Confused?

The research also shows that very small amounts of animal products were not shown to have negative health consequences. This is Dr. Fuhrman’s position as well as Dr. Campbell’s. My own position is that some animal fat (not protein), in the form of ghee, is very beneficial in a vegetarian diet.

To summarize, I think Dr. Fuhrman's nutrition program is very good - far better than most. It is certainly one of my favorite nutrition plans. I simply think it would be even better if it included a little ghee. I also think that if one combined Dr. Fuhrman's recommendations with Dr. Airola's and some of the better ideas from Ayurveda, the end result would be still better.

I'm looking forward to hearing from any of you about safe upper limits for plant-based protein consumption.

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All this is great discussion,

All this is great discussion, (and must) serve as the definitive
outline. But would you really sit down & calculate the precise number
of calories or the percentage of protein-fat-carbs, not just on a
daily basis but also on a per meal basis?

And when we add the variability that is essential and an inherent part
of the diet - is it practical to do so?

Perhaps, I am thinking more on the lines of how the body responds and
signals if we are veering off the track.

@yogi: thank you for your

@yogi: thank you for your comment. (And I'm sorry about the web site error.)

In my case, I have very good diet software. Every once in a while (maybe yearly), I will calculate all the macro and micro nutrients for a few days. (My software will break it out on a per meal basis, but I really think the totals for the day are all that matter unless you are a serious athlete or undergoing some special treatment.) If I'm within the ranges I like, then I don't give it any more thought until I change something about my diet significantly.

Danny made a good point (which I think is the same thing you are saying) that if one is eating according to a diet that is known to be sound, then there probably isn't much reason to check the details obsessively. History has proven some traditional diets, and modern physicians have done a lot of work on others. For someone eating a proven diet, the details have already been worked out.

But for someone like me who creates his own dietary plan, it helps to have the software to check things out.

As for Eat to Live suggesting

As for Eat to Live suggesting a diet which is more on the range of 10-12% protein, this is because Eat to Live is a book specific for overweight and obese people. The diet is devoid of animal foods and based on mostly vegetables, fruits and beans

Now Dr. Fuhrman has written a book about children "Diseaseproof your child". Such book is better to grasp the right diet for active people or maintenance. As Fuhrman says the diet that is adequate for the youngster of a species is also adequate for the adults of that species and viceversa.

On Diseaseproof you see how Furhman is that limited only with obese and overweight people.
For a maintenance diet he suggests way more nuts, he allows food like tofu, allows animal foods like eggs or fillets and even some grain like oat or quinoa. He also allows oils

On average 55 to 60 grams of protein per 1000 calories are obtained from a mix of these food plus vegetables, beans and fruits

(If anyone has his explicit recommendations for % calories from protein, please let me know.)

The reason why you won't find them is that Dr. Furhman has not suggestion for macronutrients
He believe in tre hunger and hence instinctive eating. He believe that as long as we eat from the foods that are healthy for us our ratio of macronutrients can just be personalized and change everyday.

As far as proteins are concerned it is rather meaningless to talk about % by calories
It's better to consider the nitrogen balance and how much grams per pound of body weight are needed to maintain a nitrogen balance and hence don't expose the body to nitrogen byproduct (one typical example is the effect of meat on colon cancer)
I think that for many people 0.40-0-50 grams per pound of body weight is adequate.
How much is this in % by calories?
It always change according to one's caloric need, weight and age.

So it's better to use a maximum amount based on a body weight treshold rather than fixed percentage by calories. For a person who consume a lot of calories 10% may even be too much protein by weight and for someone who consume little calories it may be too little by weight.

I think we must also beware on focusing too much on what's ideal.
To make an example suited to this blog eating less, eavoid overeating and have a plant-based diet lead to low free-radical
Want them even lower? Stop eating!

It's the similar concept with the China Study.
Less protein from a certain dangerous point allows just more protection. No protein at all would allow the best protection of all.
So it's actually a matter of finding a balance between the pro and cons of two sides of the spectrum.

It's a compromise, cause we live through consuming protein but we also produce toxic by-products through protein consumption

The best compromise is imo finding the right individual amount of protein to remain in a nitrogen balance given one's level of physical activity (which doesn't increase protein need because of muscle growth but because of increased turnover)

Another fact to consider is that when our proteins come from plant we don't have such a way to tweak the amount. Plant have a very similar protein average content and it's very hard to "consciously increase" one's protein intake when getting them from plants; with the only exception of tofu and seitan.

In other words if one consumes a mix of veggies, fruits, beans and nuts the protein intake is consistent with the caloric intake and pretty consistent between diet and diet

I believe such intake of protein is natural and safe and is on average 0.50-0.60 grams per pound of body weight. This depending on the caloric intake would result in either 10% or more or less. But that's eventually is pretty irrelevant compared to the specific grams for each pound of lean body mass of one's body

The reason why it's easier to "consciously increase" protein intake with animal food is that one can choose lean cut over fatty ones.
But with plant everything is like it was planned to be

But the data from the China Study actually showed these correlations:

Liver Cancer

Breast Cancer

Large Bowel Cancer

Campbell states: the closer a diet is to an all-plant foods diet, the greater and more comprehensive will be the benefit, at least for many, perhaps most individuals.

Furhman believes in this and follow this especially because plant foods are also the most nutrients dense one
But those data and this statement means that as long as your diet is plant-based (especially greens) then the exact amount of protein is not that important as it would be for animal proteins, also because a plant-based diet tend to self-regulate the healthy amount of protein

Clearly an excess is an excess and this applies to both animals and plants. But by "excess" is means a conscious increasing of one protein intake by consuming only certain special foods and not the micromanaging of one's protein intake from a mix of natural and unrefined plant foods IMO

After meeting with the blood

After meeting with the blood type diet I rarely even consider looking at others!
Dr D'Adamo, not only hypothesises but also successfully treats patients!


@Joyce: thanks for reminding

@Joyce: thanks for reminding me of the importance of eating for your body type. Your comment motivated me to write today's post. (Sorry I picked on Dr. D'Adamo a little in that post.) If his diet is working for you, that's all that counts.

Joyce, would you be interested in writing an article here about your experiences with Dr. D'Adamo's diet?

I Have hepatic encephalopathy

I Have hepatic encephalopathy , my Dr. Recomended a diet low in proteins and sugar
my hed is due to medication taken for
elimination of extra water on my body
do you have any sugestions.