“Protein-hysteria”

Published : 05/23/2018

“Protein-hysteria”

Protein is the new buzzword everyone is obsessing about. They are being touted as “muscle-boosters” and “fat-killers”. Our food industry has tapped into this health claim and supermarkets are selling more and more products that have been enriched with extra protein. They range from granolas to yoghurt drinks, bread and chocolate bars. They all promise to make you fit, lean and healthy – due to protein.

There is no doubt about the fact that our body needs protein. Together with fat and carbohydrates it belongs to the three essential macronutrients that we need in order to survive. Protein plays an essential role for our muscles, our metabolism, our hormone balance and respective cell growth. Several foods naturally contain protein such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy and nuts. But in times like these, where protein is the new talking point in every health-driven society, on the background of the increasingly popular “low-carb diet”, almost all foods get artificially fortified with this ever-important nutrient. A “protein-poor” food such as bread gets enriched with wheat protein, while granola is often fortified with soy, wheat or lupine protein. Though, even products such as dairy, that contain ample amounts of natural protein, are further fortified – is this really necessary?

Fortified products fall under the “health-claim-regulation” by which a product is allowed to be advertised as a “protein source”, if at least 12% of its energy content is made up of protein. The claim “high protein content” is allowed to be used if at least 20% of its energy comes from protein.

The German Nutrition Society recommends 0,8 grams of protein per kilogram (for adults), which can easily be obtained by a balanced and varied diet. According to the society there is more of a “protein-over-nutrition” in Germany than an undernutrition. Where the 0,8 rule does not apply is in case of elderly and very sportive people, who generally have higher protein demands.

What can be misleading and questionable when it comes to the “promised health effects” of protein products, is their at times high content of fats and sugar. Often, they contain “hidden sugars” that would not be expected, but surprise everyone reading the product labels. Sometimes a protein granola contains more fat than the same product-line but with chocolate. And whilst protein bread sometimes contains 13 grams of fat, rye bread on average contains not more than 1 gram. Therefore, one has to look closely to make sure to eat only what one intends to eat. Especially products that are advertised as being “extremely healthy” are often the exact contrary. In the end, one has to keep in mind that health slogans are written out of an interest of an industry trying to sell a product.

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