Protein Mania

It seems like everyone is jumping on the protein bandwagon. Take a walk around the grocery store and find nutrition claims boasting ‘high protein’ snacks. Visit fast food restaurants to find menus featuring ‘protein-rich’ burgers or tacos. Scan your Facebook feed to find friends eating paleo or starting Whole 30. It’s all around us.

The rise in mainstream protein marketing was a slow buildup, but really took off in 2014. One of the biggest band-wagon jumpers? The dairy industry. Although cow’s milk still leads in ‘milk’ sales, the success of non-dairy milk brands prompted a change in marketing strategy. In 2014, the Milk Processor Education Program transitioned away from their  well-known “Got Milk?” slogan to a new “what 8 grams of protein looks like” approach. The dairy industry hasn’t been alone in this trend – brands like General Mills and Kraft, as well as chains like Panera Bread Co. and Taco Bell, plus countless snack and supplement companies – also tout protein in their advertising.

Marketing is a powerful tool in the world of nutrition. When used well, it can be a valuable factor in sharing information and improving the health of millions. When it’s used poorly, it leaves consumers vulnerable. We’re all just trying to make a ‘good’ choice amongst a constant stream of information. Often, misinformation.

If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
— Michael Pollan

When you combine marketing with questionable laws on nutrition labeling, things get a little murky. How do we decide what to believe?

Nutrition claims [the information you see on the front of packaged food items] are loosely regulated by the FDA and frequently changing based on research and recommendations… also lobbying. It’s important to remember that brands can be selective about what they choose to display front and center. Have you ever seen a processed cereal box that displays “HIGH SUGAR” on the front? Yeah, me neither.

The main problem with ‘HIGH protein’ marketing, is that for many, it’s become synonymous with a healthy choice. Things are never that simple. Many foods that are high in protein are also high in saturated fat and cholesterol (like meat, eggs, and dairy) or high in sugar and sodium (like granola bars, protein shakes, cereals). It’s up to us to read the nutrition label.

The biggest take home point: it's not necessary! As we talked about last week, it’s not hard to get adequate amounts of protein in our diet with REAL, whole foods. Eating above the guidelines for protein recommendations doesn’t show long term health benefits. It’s also not Paleolithic, as the first 90% of our time on earth was spent eating a diet that was around 95% plants!

More to come on high protein diet trends and what the research says on weight loss!

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