Last time I checked, protein was a naturally present food compound, a macronutrient to be precise, and not a food ingredient. Apparently I haven’t checked in a while. A recent Wall Street Journal article (non-subscribers read here) details a race in the food industry to create high-protein versions of all our favorite packaged products – from cereals, to bars, to beverages – by adding (as an ingredient) concentrated sources of protein.
According to the article, the word “protein” on the packaging has what researchers call a “health halo effect.” That is, the food is interpreted as healthy by different types of shoppers for different reasons. Nine-to-fivers see an energizing post-lunch snack. Dieters see prolonged satiety for easier weight loss. Weight lifters see muscle recovery and synthesis.
Do we really need all this protein? Sure, prolonged satiety, balanced blood sugar and proper nourishment around a workout are important things. But why do we need a processed protein-enhanced food product to achieve them? Can’t we get there with real food? Apple with almond-butter anyone?
The average omnivorous American eats far more protein than his or her recommended daily requirement. Consider that just 4oz (1 boneless breast) of chicken has 27g of protein, 53% of the daily value for an average person. A ½lb (8oz) burger has 30g.
Perhaps it’s not more protein that we need, but rather less sugar and salt in our snacks. Both perpetuate hunger and sugar is especially effective at promoting energy crashes. In effect, by adding soy protein isolate and other refined proteins, food manufacturers are working to balance the added sugar and refined carbohydrates in their products, all the while stuffing more calories and processed additives into our diets.
Moral of the story? Don’t be fooled by the word protein printed on the front of a food product. In fact, be downright suspicious! Chances are good that is a food you don’t need in your diet to begin with, added protein or not. Always read labels, regardless of what the product’s name says. Seek to get protein in your diet naturally from whole foods, and aim for a balance of healthy carbohydrate, fat and protein at every meal or snack.
Photo Source: Wall Street Journal