Sun, Feb-11-24, 02:22
The high-protein foods that aren’t what they seem
Step away from the junk!
The high-protein foods that aren’t what they seem
Shoppers are paying a premium for specialised products that may contain less protein than the standard versions
Health-conscious shoppers are paying a premium for “high-protein” products that contain only slightly more or even less protein than the normal range.
The demand for foods with added protein has boomed and many supermarkets sell high-protein versions of bread, yoghurt, milk, cereal, pasta, ready meals and even ice cream.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle and tissues and most adults can comfortably reach the recommended intake by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Despite this, products with added protein are popular among gym-goers who want to build muscle and people seeking to lose weight by feeling fuller for longer.
New analysis reveals that brands are placing big mark-ups on products that sometimes contain only marginally more protein.
Lidl’s high-protein chicken tikka with rice has 3g less protein than its regular tikka masala but costs 50p more at £2.99.
High-protein pasta and meatballs from Marks & Spencer, which has added yellow pea protein, contains 3g more protein per 100g than its regular spaghetti bolognese, and costs £2 more, at £5.50.
The popular Fuel 10K protein brand has 13.7g of protein per 100g in its golden syrup porridge oats. A plain packet of Tesco organic oats contains 12.1g and is almost double the size for the same price. Fuel 10K porridge says in large print on the packet that it is “high-protein” but a footnote in smaller writing says this claim applies “when made with milk”.
Some supermarkets sell added protein versions of milk, cheese and yoghurt, which are already listed by the NHS as good sources of protein. Aldi’s protein-enriched milk has 5g per 100g compared with 3.6g in its regular milk.
Avni Vyas, senior lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Sometimes the higher-protein options are more than twice the price of the original product, which is not always justified in the price, as the source of the protein is usually a pulse-based addition.
“The cost of these foods far outweighs the benefits. Protein intake in the UK for most people is over their requirement, especially for those who are following a mixed-meal diet, including meat, fish and chicken. Protein is available in so many foods, including grain and cereals, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses.”
Most adults need around 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight each day, which equates to 55g on average for women and 63g for men, according to average weights in 2021. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, most adults already eat in excess of this; the average daily intakes of protein is 76g for adults, but falls to 67g over 65 years old. Older people are recommended extra protein, closer to 1g per kg of body weight each day.
A grilled chicken breast has 38g of protein, a salmon fillet has 30g, two hard-boiled eggs have 12g, half a can of baked beans or chickpeas have 10g and a slice of brown bread has about 5g. Fruit and vegetables are a lower source of protein but green peas and a baked potato have about 4g per serving.
Lewis Prosser, a performance coach and nutritionist, said: “Protein has been popularised as the king or queen macronutrient, which will enable [food companies] to gain more revenue. Products labelled ‘high-protein’ but under 5g different to the original won’t make a difference for activating muscle protein synthesis in that meal.”
Retailers said high-protein food was not based purely on the grams of protein but the proportion of protein as part of the energy value. A product can only be referred to as high-protein if 20 per cent of the energy value of the food is provided by protein, according to labelling regulations. Some high-protein meals were lower in calories, fat and salt than the regular alternatives. Lidl said it had “robust processes in place to ensure labelling compliance”.
The British Heart Foundation suggests extra protein is needed only after bouts of exercise of 90 minutes or more to speed up muscle repair. It said that supplements might come with added oils and sugars, which can lead to weight gain.
Kim Pearson, a nutritionist specialising in weight management, based in Harley Street in London, said: “Many of us eat meals that are carbohydrate-dominated so balancing this out to provide a higher proportion of protein along with healthy fats can be beneficial.
“That said, many of the foods that are marketed as high-protein are highly processed and not things that I would recommend. In Fuel 10K’s porridge, its second-highest ingredient is sugar. There’s more sugar in it than there is protein.
“More savvy consumers are becoming aware of how to identify ultraprocessed foods, including those that boast health claims like ‘high-protein’. However, it’s easy to be misled. Consumers are often time-poor and make fast decisions when purchasing food.”
Chocolate manufacturers such as Snickers, Bounty, Mars bar and M&Ms are among the big brands to have introduced high-protein versions in recent years. The Snickers protein peanut butter flavoured chocolate bar has 30 per cent less sugar than an ordinary Snickers and 140 per cent more protein per 100g, which comes from added milk and powdered whey (a byproduct of cheese). High protein Mars bars contain soya, milk and whey.
Morrisons sells an own-brand “low-calorie, high-protein” cookie dough ice cream with 7.5g of protein per 100g, which it says is low in sugar and fat. Their loaded cookie dough ice cream contains 4.2g per 100g, and is 69p cheaper. The second ingredient in the regular ice cream is sugar, while in the high protein version it is polydextrose, a lab-made form of soluble fibre made from glucose and sorbitol, used as a sugar replacement.
Dalia Campbell, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, said peanut butter in supermarkets often had similar levels of protein to those three times the price sold by some protein brands.
“There is a marketing push around protein and it can be really expensive,” she said. “There is also a lot of promotion of high protein diets in social media and there is a lot of misinformation.
“Protein intake targets of 1.2 to 1.8g per kg of body mass have been set by the International Olympic Committee for strength and endurance athletes, but that is not most of us. Excess protein that we consume cannot be stored as protein — it is just expensive extra calories.”
Professor Tom Sanders, emeritus professor in nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said about 10 per cent of our energy from food should come from protein, but the average in the UK was about 15 per cent. “Even vegans meet the recommendations,” he said.
“High intakes of protein can be harmful for people with renal disease. High intakes of protein may also increase loss of calcium from the bones which results in osteoporosis.”
M&S said its high-protein spaghetti bolognese had additional ingredients such as fresh baby spinach, rapeseed oil and red peppers. A spokeswoman said: “Customers are more aware than ever of the benefits of eating a high-protein diet and are looking for more exciting and convenient ways to increase their protein intake.
“To make it easier, we call out our high protein on pack for products where at least 20 per cent of the energy is provided from protein and last month we launched over 30 new high-protein products, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking options.”