Health Watch -- Protein vs. Carbohydrates

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


It can be hard to keep up with which foods are supposedly good and which foods are supposedly bad.

About ten years ago, fat seemed to be the major dietary villain. We were told to avoid fat and the foods containing it, instead focusing on low-fat foods like pasta, fruits and vegetables. Now the popular dietary no-no is carbohydrates. Some diets go as far as to call for cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely and eating protein instead.

These whole categories can't really be labeled "good" or "bad." There are some carbohydrates, like refined sugar and flour, that don't add a lot of nutrients to the diet. But fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are important sources of nutrition, are also full of carbohydrates.

Meanwhile, although protein is also an essential nutrient, you probably get more of it than you need if you eat the typical American diet. The recommended daily allowance of protein for an average adult male is about 63 grams.

Nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that's about what you'd find in a 4-ounce serving of meat, two cups of milk and six to seven servings of grain products.

A healthy person can generally eat up to 20 percent of his or her daily calories in protein without having problems. But Dr. Scott Grundy, director of UT Southwestern's Center for Human Nutrition, says some people may be more at risk from too much protein in their diets. Protein is metabolized in the liver and kidneys, so infants and the elderly are at risk because their kidneys don't function as efficiently. People with liver or kidney disease also may be in danger from excess protein.

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Feb. 2004

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