Usually when your dietitian-nutritionist talks about protein foods, he/she means foods like chicken, beef, eggs, and other foods whose primary macronutrient is protein. But this time, I’m talking about the other “protein” foods – foods with protein added presumably to make them healthier (or at least appear that way). Like Cheerios Protein, or high protein bread. This trend of adding protein to all sorts of food should be great news, right? I mean, protein is so good for so many reasons – it helps build muscles, keeps you satisfied, is an important part of DNA, and aids recovery for athletes. Unfortunately, throwing protein powder into every possible consumable is not the answer, and here’s why.
1. More processing – if you thought cereal and bread weren’t processed before, they sure are now. The best breads involve grinding down wheat and other grains, packaging them up to send to a baker, the baker mixing them with water, yeast, and whatever other ingredients, baking, and packaging. Now you are adding to that process isolating and dehydrating cow’s milk protein (99.9 times out of 100 NOT a grass-fed, humanely raised cow either) or dehulling and defatting soybean meal to create soy protein isolate, and packaging that up too. The macronutrient label may now reflect a more balanced food item, but the ingredients list will tell a different story.
2. What kind of protein is that again? Let me just say that I have minimal faith in the food industry to use quality ingredients. Even the brands that claim to (looking at you, Naked Juice) are owned by brands (like Pepsi) who only give a crap about profit. Even I don’t know where most of the protein powder on the shelf at GNC comes from.
3. $$$$$$$ – Adding a trendy component to your product = increased price. To be fair, I have not had time to check a supermarket, so I will stand corrected if someone tells me protein cheerios and protein bread aren’t more expensive than the regular variety.
4. Raw protein powder tastes like crap – which means to make it palatable, the protein variety requires a whole bunch more sugar. This is also why there is always some small amount of artificial sweetener in your Progenex. The good thing about artificial sweetener is that because it’s so much sweeter than regular sugar, you only need a small amount of it. Either way, just compare the nutrition label for Cheerios and Cheerio Protein Honey Oat. The regular Cheerios have 1 gram of sugar per cup, while the Protein version has 14 grams per cup and twice the total carbohydrate (42 grams compared to 20 grams). And while we’re being honest, who eats only the serving size? To get 7 grams of protein, you are adding 13 grams of extra sugar. Honestly, I’d rather see you drink a glass of milk, make an egg, or even eat 2 TB of peanut butter. Both of those will provide more actual nutrition (I’m talking the vitamins and minerals here) than processed cereal with protein powder in it.
Now, this isn’t a knock on protein powder. That has a couple of specific, evidence based uses for some people (you can learn more about that in another blog post). What I’m knocking is taking a food that is OK but not great for you (Cheerios, whole grain bread, etc) and trying to dress it up as the newest health food while actually making it kind of worse. Going back to the Cheerios example, both Banana Nut and Chocolate Cheerios would be a better option than the Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey (fewer ingredients, fewer types of sugar, half the total carbs, a little less sugar), despite the fact that they sound like desserts (and basically are).
The bottom line is your protein should come from natural sources like eggs, grass-fed/pasture raised meat and dairy, and nuts and seeds. If you’re a vegetarian, even Tofu and some protein supplements are leaps and bounds better than adding protein powder to cereal and other grains. And if you’re looking to add convenient sources of protein to your diet, options include jerky, hard boiled eggs, nuts, deli slices, etc.
Have you tried protein enhanced foods? What did you think of them?