1. As any health-conscious individual knows, protein is indispensable to a healthy body.

    An essential key in building muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair, and blood, protein assists in synthesizing enzymes, hormones, and maintaining fluid balance, while playing a major role in building antibodies against infection, blood clotting, and scar formation. And considering that the nearly 10,000 different proteins typically found in the body constitute about 75% of your body weight, it can be said that they essentially make you what you are.

    But is it true that women need more protein than men?

    According to the Nurses’ Health Study, which investigated the association between dietary protein and heart disease or stroke, those women who ate relatively more protein per day (110 grams per day) over a 14-year period, were 25% less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who ate less (68 grams per day). This study concluded that it is possible that eating more protein — and it didn’t seem to really matter whether the protein came from animals or vegetables — while cutting back on easily digested carbohydrates, may benefit women’s hearts.

    But does this mean that all women need high levels of protein to be healthy?  Higher levels than men?  Here’s where it gets tricky.

    As described in a number of studies presented by Purdue University, men in general require more protein than women simply because they weigh more.  (And if they’re involved in body-building, their bodies may utilize even greater amounts of protein.)  But in general, both men and women (regardless of body size) will do fine with 60 grams of protein a day.

    However, as these studies further show, as a result of all the high-protein diet hype in recent years, many people have taken to eating much more protein than they actually require. This excess protein, in both men and women, accelerates calcium loss through the urine. So, who is statistically at the greater risk of health issues related to calcium loss?  Women.

    Yes, men who eat too much protein have a greater risk of developing kidney stones, but women risk major health problems that materialize in later years in the form of osteoporosis. If fact, it was discovered that older women who consume higher levels of protein lose bone mineral density faster than women who consume normal levels of protein in their diets–which is of concern for even middle-aged women who can manifest the early signs of osteoporosis.

    And there’s more to consider.

    According to protein expert Gail Butterfield, PhD, RD, director of Nutrition Studies at the Palo Alto Veterans’ Administration Medical Center and Nutrition, consuming too much protein — more than 30% of your total daily caloric intake — could effectively harm your body under the following conditions:

    > Adding more protein but not more calories or exercise to your diet won’t help you build more muscle mass, but may put your other bodily systems under dangerous stress.

    > Eating more protein and increasing total caloric intake while maintaining the same exercise level will build an equal amount of additional fat and muscle mass, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 1992.

    > Increasing protein while cutting carbohydrates from your diet may force your body to fight back, causing a buildup of toxic ketones. So-called “ketogenic diets” can cause your kidneys to overwork in an effort to flush these ketones from your body. In the process, you can lose a significant amount of water, putting you at risk of dehydration–which further strains your kidneys and puts stress on your heart.  And along with losing water, you lose muscle mass and bone calcium.

    So, do women need more protein?

    The short answer is, “No” While individuals who are highly athletic — both men and women — may require higher than normal levels of protein to maintain their desired, competitive physiques, according to several studies, women in general do not need more protein than men, and may actually cause irreparable damage to their bodies with a diet that is excessively high in protein intake.


    (To find out if you in particular could benefit from an increase in protein, speak to your doctor or a nutritionist.) 

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