We eat a whole lot of protein here in the Western world. In fact, many respected doctors and nutritionists believe way too much protein is consumed on the standard American diet (SAD). An unfortunate acronym! Any excess protein is removed via the urine. So do you pee more when you eat more protein? We will find out …
Do You Pee More When You Eat More Protein?Yes, excess protein in the diet is broken down into urea which is excreted via your urine. So what? I hear you ask. Moderate levels of excess protein are not a health risk so why should you care about that urea rich, foamy pee in your toilet bowl?
Watch: Dr. Eric Berg on eating too much protein …
A recent article in Scientific American caught my eye. Entitled “Eating Too Much Protein Makes Pee a Problem Pollutant in the U.S.”, maybe it was the outstanding alliteration that reeled me in 🙂
Anyway, I’m glad I took the couple of minutes to read this short piece because it opened up my eyes, just a little bit more, to how profoundly human activities affect the world around us.
It turns out we eat so much excess protein that the nitrogen pollution which results is a problem as big as the one caused by agricultural fertiliser runoff!
This seems quite astounding to me when you consider the amount of nitrogen fertiliser we apply to the land in order to grow the crops which feed the cows which feed the humans!
What Happens if You Have Too Much Nitrogen in Your Body?
We all need our daily dose of protein. Every single cell in the human body contains protein. It forms the building blocks of our entire existence. Without protein, life as we know it would never have come about.
How much protein we need is a matter of intense debate online. The official guidance on most authoritative websites like Harvard Health, The British Nutrition Foundation and the NHS is for women to consume 45g per day and for men it’s 56g. This is for the average sedentary adult .
Once you hit this threshold, your body cannot really store excess protein. We’re able to hold some in our fat cells but for the left overs our body needs a way to remove excess protein from the body.
It’s your pee which comes to the rescue!
The excess protein left over from the digestive process is broken down into urea which is a nitrogen heavy compound and your body cleanses itself of this nitrogen via your urine. It enters the sewage system and eventually ends up in our watercourses.
You may also like: Does All Protein Come From Plants?
Too Much Protein = Excess Nitrogen Pollution!
It’s now well established that the average American consumes too much protein. It’s the same story for the average Brit and no doubt, many other ‘developed’ nations.
As a quick example, the average American will eat around 100g of protein per day. This is nearly twice the suggested daily amount. Most of this protein will come from meat consumption, although vegans are far from insulated against the problem.
For reasons which are obvious, as a country becomes more wealthy the meat consumption goes up. All that extra protein in the diet has to go somewhere and as mentioned above, it ends up as nitrogen pollution in the water systems.
I already knew nitrogen runoff from farming is a big problem, causing damaging algal blooms which can wreak havoc in aquatic systems. But I had no idea the nitrogen pollution from our protein heavy diet rivals the agricultural source in magnitude!
A new study cited in the Scientific American article confirms the extent of the problem .
New Tech & Dietary Changes Are The Answer
China recently spent $20 billion US dollars solely on nitrogen removal systems at their wastewater treatment plants. In their latest 5 year plan they will spend over $82 billion on wastewater treatment, according to trade publication WaterWorld .
So the technology does exist to solve this problem. But it’s expensive and with other environmental pressures vying for attention, wastewater treatment is not exactly at the top of the list.
Much of the existing infrastructure in developed nations is now well out of date and not up to the job. So while upgrades progress at a snail’s pace, what can we do in the meantime to mitigate the worst effects?
Yep, you guessed it … eat less protein!
Stop Telling Me What To Eat … Grrrrr!
The sooner we all realise that our dietary choices have profound impacts far beyond that nice taste in our mouth, the better.
Most vegans have already made the connection between what they eat and how that affects the wider world. Specifically, the effect it has on farmed animals.
Stop the demand and you stop the suffering … simples.
But no-one likes to be told what to eat. What we decide to put in our mouths is a very personal thing and many believe other people should just butt out when it comes to our food choices.
As time wears on though, the reality of our current trajectory is becoming ever more obvious.
If we are to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, for example, we must eat less meat. That’s simply not an opinion any more. Too many studies have concluded this to be the case.
It’s the same with the pollution of our waterways.
The production and consumption of meat is a three-pronged attack on the health of our streams, rivers and coastal areas.
- Excess nitrogen is washed into the rivers at the beginning of the meat cycle through growing livestock feed.
- Pollution from factory farms causes untold damage directly to the waterways.
- Excess protein in the diet causes even more nitrogen to end up in our sewage systems and ultimately, the ocean.
You may have heard of ‘dead zones’ in our seas due to large algal blooms which starve large areas of water, using up all the oxygen and suffocating the fish!
Yes, that actually happens.
It’s due to there being way too much nitrogen in the water and is yet another example of the human race failing to live in harmony with the world around us.
Eating Less Meat … Is It Really So Difficult?
There’s always going to be the die-hard lunatics who will never compromise because of ‘personal choice’ or whatever. Some even go the other way entirely and rebel by deciding to eat only meat … good luck with that; you’ll likely sell lots of books.
But most rational human beings are aware that over-consumption of meat is a real and present danger when it comes to our environment.
I imagine though that many people have no idea the excess dietary protein we’re golloping down causes direct nitrogen pollution in our water. Well now you know.
Vegans don’t eat meat for ethical reasons and this has the added benefit of positively impacting the natural world in many different ways.
Even if you don’t care about farmed animals’ daily suffering, hopefully you care about your kids’ future and want to do something to help?
See, I’m a realist and I know the whole world is not going vegan any time soon, much as I would love that. So the next best thing?
Just eat less of the stuff …
Reducing your meat intake is a significant step you can take to do your bit. If everyone started down this road the resulting effect on our environment would be huge.
Yes … you CAN make a difference!
I hope this article helped you answer some questions and if you enjoyed the read, please share with your friends using the socials below. You’re most welcome to leave a comment below too. I always respond, maybe not immediately, but I will reply.
Thanks for reading and have a compassionate day!
Sources: – Harvard Health Medical School. Harvard Health Publishing. Staying Healthy. How much protein do you need every day? January 19, 2022. By Harvard Health Publishing Staff, Harvard Health. Retrieved 1st August 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096  – Frontiers In Ecology and the Environment. Research Communications. The impact of excessive protein consumption on human wastewater nitrogen loading of US waters. Maya Almaraz,Caitlin D Kuempel,Andrew M Salter,Benjamin S Halpern. First published: 21 June 2022 https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2531  – China’s 13th Five Year Plan: What Role Will Wastewater Play? By Tin Siao Soh. WaterWorld Jan. 30, 2018. Retrieved 1st August 2022. https://www.waterworld.com/home/article/16201297/chinas-13th-five-year-plan-what-role-will-wastewater-play