Why you may not need to go on that high protein diet: Internet Scambusters #1,048
Protein is good for you. That's for sure. As long as you consume the right amount and the right quality.
But some food and supplement manufacturers would have you buy and eat more than you need under the guise of a healthy diet.
In this week's issue, we'll explain the role of protein in diet and how easy it is to be taken in by clever marketing tricks.
Let's get started…
Are High Protein Diets Just A Scam?
High protein diets are all the rage right now, especially at the start of a new year when many of us resolve to eat healthy and get fit.
But instead of getting ripped, consumers are being ripped off by deceptive marketing tactics.
They exploit the fact that most people actually don't know about protein, what it does, and how much you need. Instead, they think more protein equals better health. And food labeling claims such as "high protein" and "protein packed" are accepted without question.
What Is Protein?
In simple terms, protein is one of three nutrients that help produce energy in the body. The other two are carbohydrates and fat - both of which often get a partly undeserved bad rap in the dietary stakes.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and cell development. We can't do without it but, fortunately, it's available naturally in lots of food. It contains amino acids, the building blocks of life. So why not go "high protein"?
But here's the thing - most of us already get more protein than we need in a regular diet. And if you have too much, this can lead to health issues, especially concerning the kidneys.
But that doesn't stop marketers and influencers making outrageous claims for consuming more protein - or lying about how much protein a particular product contains.
Protein versus… Protein
Yes, there are different types of protein that offer varying levels of digestibility and nutrition. Quality is often more important than quantity but that's never made clear on food labels.
Second, high quality protein is quite expensive, so some disreputable suppliers effectively "dilute" their protein by adding cheap amino acids - a process known as "amino spiking."
One reputable company, Apollon Nutrition, alleges that many mainstream national brands have been cheating customers this way.
"These companies fill their tubs with far cheaper free form amino acids like glycine, taurine or leucine as well as other substances like creatine monohydrate," it says, "and then portray them as grams of protein on the products' labels."
Moreover, once they got caught cheating, some firms turned to adding whey protein concentrate to bulk up their products. This is a protein but, according to Apollon, is cheaper and lower quality than whey protein isolate.
"Essentially, this is another scam to distort the amount of protein that is on the label versus how much is actually in the product," the firm says.
Apollon also claims that some protein producers are paying dubious "top 10" type review websites to put their products at or near the top. These are aimed at fitness fanatics who want to bulk up their physique without paying too much.
"People who are new to working out or new to purchasing supplements are inclined to follow the crowd and are looking for recommendations," Apollon says. It advises buyers to give a wide berth to "proprietary protein blends" because you simply don't know what's in them.
Also, avoid protein supplements that are listed at "too good to be true" prices. Look for products that are "good manufacturing process" (GMP) certified. And, crucially, beware of simple content claims about "x grams of protein." In almost every case, the actual protein content is lower, Apollon claims. What you should be looking for is the "protein yield."
Exaggerating Protein Contents
In a report last September, the nonprofit Truth in Advertising (TINA) organization says a wave of class action lawsuits challenging quantitative protein claims have been filed against some of the biggest names in the dietary business, alleging their products overstate the amount of digestible protein.
The arguments revolve around both the quality and how the protein is actually measured, with TINA claiming nutrition labels use a method that produces a higher count than recognized scientific methods and fails to disclose the lower quality of some contents.
This results in the actual protein value of some foods being only half the level claimed on the label. Sometimes, the amount falls well below federal guidance for making "high protein" claims.
What Does High Protein Mean?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says a product must contain at least 20 percent protein to be called "high protein," but, given what we've already mentioned above, the actual number shown on the label could be misleading.
Furthermore, if you look at the nutrition labeling on regular food products, you'll find some of them already have as much protein as so-called high-protein products.
Nutrition blogger Jon Walters, for example, compared a so-called protein cookie with a regular candy bar and found they had roughly a similar number of calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein - 7.4 grams of the latter in the cookie versus 6.6 grams in the candy bar!
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The highly respected Mayo Clinic says protein should account for between 10 and 35 percent of the calories you consume each day. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an average adult is around 60 grams of protein, or 0.8 grams per kilo of body weight.
An average chicken breast contains 54 grams of protein. One hundred grams of soybeans has 18 grams of protein. Using these figures alone, it's easy to see how you can likely meet your RDA just through a regular diet.
This is backed up by research that showed people on artificially inflated protein intake did not gain any significant amount more muscle mass than those on an ordinary diet.
Dr. Alison Tedstone, UK government chief nutritionist, told the British media site The Guardian: "The majority of people are consuming much more than the recommended daily allowance of protein through their everyday diet. So even if you hit the gym regularly, spending money on protein supplements is unlikely to bring any additional benefit."
What To Do
Before considering any type of diet, you should always speak to your doctor or nutritionist and follow their guidance.
That said, you can go some way toward avoiding a protein diet rip-off by knowing how much you're already consuming, checking food labels against the background that content may be exaggerated or of varying quality, avoiding bargain prices, and being wary of review listings.
A final piece of advice from TINA: "For those of us who didn't grow up to be big and strong - or want to be even bigger and even stronger as an adult - loading up on products marketed as high in protein may seem like the solution. But such claims are under increased scrutiny, so remember that when making purchasing decisions."
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!