by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Protein

Apr 29 2022

Weekend reading: The politics of protein

IPES-Food, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, has a new report: The politics of protein: Examining claims about livestock, fish, “alternative proteins” and sustainability 

The report contains a deep analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these eight claims.

The report’s argument is that the focus on protein is overblown.

For decades, the perceived need for more protein has led to distractions and distortions in development programs, flawed marketing and nutritional campaigns, and calls to increase the production and trade of meat, dairy, and protein-enriched foods.

Today, the evidence clearly shows that there is no global ‘protein gap’: protein is only one of many nutrients missing in the diets of those suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and insufficiency of these diets is primarily a result of poverty and access.

The report displays data to back up its arguments in attractive and easily understood charts.  Its conclusions are clearly marked.  Example:  part of the conclusion for Claim #5: Alternative proteins are a win-win.

In conclusion, there are too many uncertainties and data gaps, and too much variation between systems, to make a definitive statement on whether ‘alternative proteins’ are more environmentally sustainable than animal source foods as a whole. Bold and categorical claims about ‘alternative proteins’ being a ‘win-win-win’ are therefore likely to be misleading…The validity of claims about ‘alternative proteins’ (and the purported benefits of these products) ultimately comes down to how foods are produced, what food systems we consider to be desirable and viable, how we weigh up trade-offs ….

Sensibly, the report makes only three recommendations:

Comment:  I think this report is well done, well written, and well presented.   But here’s where this nutritionist gets cranky: Why title it Protein?  Protein is a nutrient, not a food.  Using protein to stand for foods that contain it is an example of “nutritionism,” the reduction of  the benefits of a food to its single components.

I had to search the report for an explanation of what IPES means by protein.  As far as I can tell, its writers assume you know what it means.  But sometimes the report refers to meat and protein, implying that meat means beef, and protein means protein-containing animal foods other than beef.  At other times, the report uses protein to include beef as well as poultry, fish, dairy, and insects.   But what about vegetables and grains?  They have protein too.  Legumes are particularly good sources; grains have nourished entire civilizations.

I realize that protein—a chefs’ term—is widely understood to stand for all foods, particularly from animals, that contain protein, but that’s nutritionally incorrect because basically every naturally occurring food contains some protein (OK, lettuce doeesn’t have much).

I wish everyone would find a better term, one that calls meat meat, if that’s what’s meant.

Jun 12 2020

Weekend reading: Eat Like the Animals

David Raubenheimer and Stephen J. Simpson.  Eat Like the Animals: What Nature Teaches Us About the Science of Healthy Eating.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

I did a blurb for this book:

Eat Like the Animals is a must-read. This beautifully written book proposes a highly original and compelling explanation for why so many of us gain weight in today’s overprocessed food environment. Raubenheimer and Simpson are biologists who use their deep knowledge of animal and insect physiology, evolution, and feeding behavior to construct a compelling hypothesis: we share with animals an innate appetite for protein that regulates what we eat.

Here is one sample:

Our analyses, inspired all those years ago by experiments with locusts and then extended to primates in the wild, had provided a radical new insight into the obesity epidemic. Ultraprocessed foods make us fat not because we have such strong appetites for the fats and carbs they contain, as is often thought to be the case. Rather, we become overweight because our appetite for protein is stronger than our ability to limit fat and carb intake. So, when protein is diluted by fats and carbs, as it is in ultraprocessed foods, our appetite for it overwhelms the mechanisms that normally would tell us to stop eating fats and carbs. As a result, we eat more than we should, more than is good for us.”  (p. 144)

And here is another:

That realization provided one of the key insights of this book and one that has guided us ever since: the strong appetite for protein shared by all animals can lead us to eat too much or too little of other nutrients, including fats and carbs. If our protein appetite is not satisfied, we will overeat the other two. Once we get enough protein, our appetites cease driving us to eat more. That’s as simple as we can make nutrition—without oversimplifying it.  (P. 180)

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Oct 5 2017

FoodNavigator-USA’s special edition on protein

Protein occurs in most foods but is especially abundant in meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.  Most of us get more than twice the amount we need on a daily basis.

But protein comes with a health aura.  It sells.

Hence: the food industry’s great interest in developing protein ingredients for food products.

FoodNavigator-USA, ever on top of current food trends, summarizes recent developments.

Special Edition: Protein in focus

While Americans typically get enough, there is no sign that the protein trend is going away, with growing numbers of food and beverage brands seeking to add additional protein to their wares or highlight the protein that’s always been there. We take a closer look…

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Oct 6 2016

FoodNavigator-USA’s focus on “alternative” proteins

FoodNavigator-USA.com has a Special Edition on alternative proteinsmeaning plant proteins that can substitute for the proteins in meat and other animal products.  These are not only useful for vegetarians, but cost less, and are much kinder to the environment.

As interest in them has grown, food companies have taken notice.  FoodNavigator says:

According to Lux Research , ‘alternative proteins’ such as soy, algae, pea, rice and canola, will account for up to a third of the protein market by 2054. But which ones have the most potential, and will new market entrants from duckweed and sacha inchi to cricket powder gain any real traction in the marketplace?

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Jul 8 2016

And now protein: Bakery & Snacks’ special edition

I’ve written about fats and carbohydrates this week, so how about I end the week with Bakery & Snacks’ special edition (compendium of articles) on protein.  Bakery & Snacks is a newsletter aimed at this industry which, as you might expect, is highly interested in the marketing potential of protein.

Reminder: most Americans consume twice the protein needed, which makes protein a non-issue for most of us.  Bakery & Snacks says:

There’s little sign of us losing our appetite for protein – with around a third of global consumers seeking foods high in protein [Nielsen 2015].

But that’s not to say the market isn’t changing – and that those in the industry may need to change with it.

In this special edition newsletter, we look at topics including: the questions to be asked when using protein in a baked good or snack; whether consumers need more education around protein; how poultry and seafood are transforming meat snacking; and what the protein boom means for retail product mixes.

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Nov 17 2015

Cheerios for Protein?

I laughed when I first saw the Cheerios box advertising Protein.  Protein is hardly an issue in U.S. diets—most Americans consume twice what they need—so this is clearly a marketing ploy.

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, was less amused.  Its scientists did the math and compared the protein to the amount in regular Cheerios.  They also looked at serving sizes.

  • Cheerios Protein: Protein 7 grams, Serving Size 55 grams
  • Cheerios regular: Protein 3 grams, Serving Size 28 grams

Hmm.  Not much difference, is there?

CSPI filed a formal complaint.

General Mills falsely and misleadingly markets Cheerios Protein to children and adults as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios. In fact, Cheerios Protein has only a smidgen more protein per serving than Cheerios, or 4 grams, which is only 5% of the average American daily protein intake. Most of that 4 grams is attributable to differences in serving sizes: Cheerios Protein has a bigger, 55 gram serving size, whereas Cheerios uses a 27 gram serving size. Two hundred calories’ worth of Cheerios Protein has a mere 7/10th of a gram more of protein than 200 calories’ worth of Cheerios.

Even worse, they looked at sugars.

  • Cheerios Protein: 17 grams sugars
  • Cheerios regular: 1 gram

As CSPI puts it:

Rather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar. Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar per serving, as Cheerios, which General Mills does not prominently disclose. 8. General Mills charges a price premium for Cheerios Protein.

Oops.

Buzzfeed has a good discussion of this.

Caveat emptor (I seem to be saying this a lot lately).

Oct 22 2015

Food Navigator-USA presents options for protein formulations

If you are a maker of processed foods, and have exhausted low-carb and low-fat marketing options, all you have left is proteins—the hot new marketing tool.  Protein-supplemented products are all over supermarket shelves.  Never mind that most Americans get twice the protein required, and that even vegans can easily meet and exceed protein requirements.

As FoodNavigator-USA puts it, “manufacturers are now competing to impress shoppers with how much they can pack into bars, beverages and yogurts. In this FoodNavigator-USA special edition we’ll look at what protein options are available for formulators, from new insect and algal-based proteins to pea, soy, and dairy-based proteins.”

Just remember: Diets adequate in calories are highly likely to be adequate in protein, and average protein intake in the population is twice the amount required.  From the standpoint of nutrition, protein is a non-issue.  But that doesn’t stop marketers from looking for ways to push it.

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Jun 23 2014

Annals of marketing: Protein cereals

Hoping to cash in on the current protein craze, General Mills has come up with this (thanks to Kasandra Griffin of  Upstream Public Health in Portland, OR,  for sending):

Cheerios1

 

Cheerios Protein has 7 grams of protein per serving.  But it also has 17 grams of sugars.

I use sugars, plural, for good reason.  Here’s the ingredient list:

Cheerios3

In case you can’t read this: Whole grain oats, cluster (whole grain oats, brown sugarsoy protein, lentils, sugar, corn syrupnatural flavor, molassesrice starch, caramel (sugar, caramelized sugar syrup), salt, calcium carbonate, baking soda, color added, BHT added to preserve freshness), sugarcorn starch, honeysalt, refiner’s syruptripotassium phosphate, rice bran and/or canola oil, color added, natural flabor, brown sugarvitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT added to preserve freshness.

A trip to the supermarket also turned up these:

This one has 16 grams of sugars.

And here’s another.  This one only has 7 grams of sugar per serving.  How come?  Sucralose!

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets.

This is about marketing, not health.

I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.