Food companies continue to increase protein. Do we need it?

The wheat is sticking.

The Breakfast of Champions is launching a new line of cereals with more than 20 grams of protein per serving “to serve today’s modern athletes who strive to be better every day,” General Mills recently announced.

But it’s not just athletes looking to increase their protein intake, as the grocery baskets of many American consumers will attest. Protein-enhanced foods now include the usual bars and shakes, as well as cereals, pastas, dairy products and pancake mixes made by various food companies.

However, while protein is an essential nutrient, everyone has different needs and more is not always the right answer.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that people are using these protein products as their primary source of protein,” said Brenda Navin, a registered dietitian and CEO of Minneapolis-based Launch My Health. “The rule of thumb is whole fresh foods first for protein, then these convenient protein products should be used as needed.”

It’s quality over quantity, says registered dietitian and University of Minnesota professor Joanne Slavin.

“Most people don’t need more protein, but you can’t ignore it,” Slavin said. “You can’t add protein powder to your diet and expect to gain muscle. Any extra calories can make you fat.”

The popularity of protein can’t be ignored either. 67% of consumers say they want to add more to their diet, according to the International Food Information Council, and a third of consumers say protein content is an indicator of health. Google searches for “high protein” have increased in recent years.

So the food companies are getting paid. These protein-rich wheats, boosted with gluten and soy, will retail for $8.99 per box.

“Consumers want protein foods and products that prioritize convenience and provide shortcuts,” according to a recent Cargill report on protein. “This mindset affects all aspects of mealtime: meal planning, grocery shopping, produce selection, food storage, meal preparation, eating and cleanup.”

Golden Valley-based General Mills recently launched high-protein varieties of Yoplait yogurt and Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Kellogg has a high-protein Special K cereal and “protein meal bars” in addition to high-protein Kashi waffles. Quaker has a line of instant oatmeal packed with protein. And Fairlife sells ultra-filtered (concentrated) milk with a higher than normal protein supply.

And then there are nutrition bars, shakes and powders that have grown significantly in recent years in response to protein-rich keto diets, a general health and wellness trend, and interest in plant-based eating .

“We’ve seen an increase in interest in high-protein diets, and consumers are interested in increasing this nutrient in ways they can, even unconventionally,” said Alyssa Pike, senior director of nutrition communications for the Council. International Food Information.

Federal guidelines for protein consumption are at least 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, so that’s 54 grams per day for a 150-pound person and 72 grams for a 200-pound person. In addition, protein should account for 10% to 35% of daily calories. The US Department of Agriculture offers a more accurate calculation using an online tool.

Everyone’s needs are different, however, which is why it’s rare to find a percentage daily value along with protein content on a food label like there are with fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins.

The minimum daily requirement may not be the optimal amount from person to person. Protein becomes more important for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and people who eat less or have less reliable access to food. Athletes need more than sedentary people.

“If you’re on a very low-calorie diet, it should be mostly protein,” Slavin said. “The average person gets more than enough by eating a small amount of meat, fish, peanut butter, soy.”

In general, protein can help with weight management by increasing feelings of fullness and satiety after a meal, Navin said, but it’s not a quick fix.

Nor is it a shortcut to building muscle.

“Although adequate protein throughout the day is necessary, extra strength training is what leads to muscle growth, not extra protein intake. You can’t build muscle without the necessary exercise,” writes the Mayo Clinic dietitian Kristi Wempen. “The body cannot store protein, so once needs are met, any extra is either used for energy or stored as fat. Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body” .

Harvard Medical School advocates a whole foods approach and cautions against blanket advice that consumers may encounter: “Research on how much protein is the optimal amount to eat for good health is ongoing, and far from complete. be established. The value of high-protein diets for weight loss or cardiovascular health, for example, remains controversial.”

Consumers are becoming more savvy and looking beyond labels to make food decisions. But there’s a tangle of conflicting information to sort through, including social media, advertising and food labels.

According to a Washington Post investigation, General Mills has been promoting misinformation about diet science through social media influencers.

“There’s a lot of passion and controversy in nutrition,” Navin said. “A lot of it is left up to the consumer to try to figure out.”

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