The Protein Marketing Offensive is On!

Protein Cereal

There was an interesting article in a recent Wall Street Journal article, examining the efficacy of a single word – Protein – on the attractiveness of food products to health conscious consumers.

As we all know, protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the 3 macro-nutrients that make up our diet. The vitamins and minerals in food are micro-nutrients and are consumed in much smaller amounts. All 3 macro-nutrients are essential for human well being. Protein specifically helps build all the body’s cells.

Here are a few choice quotes about protein and marketing from WSJ, and our read on them:

1. “It’s one of those rare things that has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people and they are all positive,” says Barry Calpino, VP at Kraft

Our take: Marketers constantly look for ways to sell us more products. As consumer preferences changes, so do the marketing messages. There’s no doubt that in recent years, the health message is an important one. Since fat is fattening (in consumer perception), and carbs are evil, the only macro-nutrient left is protein. So it must be good.

2. A label that says protein has what researchers call a “health halo effect” that goes beyond just the promise of protein. When people see the word, they also believe the product will make them feel more full or give them energy..

Our take: This may or may not be true, depending on what else is in the product.

3. Much of the protein being added to products like drinks, bars and cereal is soy protein isolate—soybeans that have been processed to remove fat and carbohydrates. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get high-quality protein, says Joanne L. Slavin, professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota

Our take: Inexpensive – yes. High quality? Questionable. While whole soybeans, or fermented soybeans are full of nutrients, soy protein isolate is a highly processed ingredient that comes in contact with harmful chemicals during its production.

Keep in mind that the average American consumes more than enough protein in a day from sources such as meat, dairy, eggs, and legumes. In most cases the proteins in them have not been messed around with or processed into an isolate.

Our bodies need about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. That’s about 55 grams per day if you weigh 150 lbs. Here are typical protein values for foods:

  • 4 oz chicken breast – 25 grams
  • 4 oz hamburger – 20 grams
  • Glass of milk – 8 grams
  • Low fat yogurt – 10 – 12 grams
  • 1 medium egg – 6 grams
  • 2 slices of bread – 3-5 grams
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter – 8 grams

So why buy an expensive bar or shake when you can get cheap and plentiful protein from real, less processed foods? This is especially if you are already getting enough protein from your daily diet.

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  • Brian Klein

    The best way to add protein to your breakfast is to cook up a couple eggs! Not the soy-protein-added-extruded-highly processed stuff found in Special-K. It’s marketed as a health food, but it is very much NOT one. Good post!

  • Naturally Hungry

    I always remind myself that they can make plastic from soybeans… so I know everything I see that is soy could be processed beyond the point where it should be eaten. I look at a lot of the meat substitute products vegetarians buy and think it could be about 1 extra process from that plastic stage.

    • Noel I

      Linseed oil comes from flax, paper and rope come from hemp, plastics, industrial and food fibers come from corn, wheat and wood, gasoline products come from corn and sugar cane, soap has dead cows, pig and horses in it, etc.
      NH, humans use plants (and animals) for eating, washing and medicine, but also for shelter, entertainment and transportation fuel. The key phrase in the post is “whole soybeans and fermented soybeans” so using byproducts to make plastics, and the argument that it therefore it must be harmful (since we’ve been doing that with many other plant fibers) is a moot point.

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