Planning to Start a High-Protein Diet? Check With Your Kidneys First

Too much protein can be taxing on the kidneys
Frying up eggs and bacon in a skillet

It’s a diet smorgasbord out there … and you want — no, you NEED – to know which one will get you results. You’ve finally picked your winner: a high-protein diet.

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But before you start chowing down on steak, read the fine print: “Consult with your doctor before starting any diet plan.”

Too much protein can impact how your body works, and particularly how it gets rid of waste. Nephrologist Juan Calle, MD, has the lowdown on high protein.

Can high-protein diets cause kidney damage?

Your kidneys play a critical role in your overall health. They filter waste, acids and extra water from your body. But eating all that protein takes a toll.

“Eating a lot of protein, especially animal protein and red meat, creates more acid and toxins in the body,” Dr. Calle explains. “And it puts more pressure on the kidneys to filter and process all of those substances.”

As we age, it’s normal for our kidneys to experience wear and tear. The added stress of a high-protein diet can contribute to kidneys losing their protein-processing powers. It becomes harder for them to keep the protein for your body to use, so more and more comes out in your urine.

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“Protein that comes out in the urine is a reflection of kidney damage,” Dr. Calle says.

He notes that while there have been studies that seem to link protein-rich diets directly to kidney damage, the jury’s still out on these findings. So don’t panic, but do use caution.

Should everyone avoid a high-protein diet?

Dr. Calle advises patients with chronic kidney disease to take the “better safe than sorry” route. “They probably should limit protein,” he says.

His advice also applies to people who have a history of kidney stones or certain rare genetic conditions like phenylketonuria (PKU). “That can put them at higher risk of forming kidney stones, which may potentially affect their kidney function, too.”

But even if your kidneys seem to be firing on all cylinders, it’s still a good idea to check with a doctor before making any drastic changes to what you eat. Diets aren’t one-size-fits-all. A doctor can help you find an eating plan that’s appropriate for your health goals.

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How can you protect your kidneys and lose weight, too?

For weight loss that won’t compromise your kidneys, it’s all about balance.

“Don’t get your calories from one source — combine protein with more fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Calle recommends. “If you don’t have any major medical conditions, the most effective diet is usually decreasing the amount of calories you consume and eating a more balanced, low-sodium diet.”

And buyer beware when it comes to the health fads that show up on social media. Your favorite Instagram celebrity may look amazing after following some new grapefruit shake diet, but stick with your doctor, nutritionist or dietitian for reliable eating advice.

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