High protein products: when are they worth it?

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From “high protein” to “rich in protein” to “source of protein”: this is how manufacturers advertise a range of protein-based products, not only the standard protein bars – after all, it’s an effective sales technique. But do these products actually improve our health?

What does high protein mean?

The high-protein label may be carried by products with a protein content of at least 20% of the total calorific value – and with the "protein source" label, the threshold lies at just 12% of the total energy value. What does this mean? Ordinary cottage cheese, for example, can be marketed as a high-protein product because of its protein content. Many manufacturers exploit this opportunity. The method is to package products attractively and sell them at a higher price – while the content remains the same.

What are proteins?

Along with carbohydrates and fats, proteins are one of the 3 key nutrients for our body. The building blocks of proteins are amino acids.

Higher daily requirement

Children, adolescents, pregnant women, people who do sports and adults over the age of 65 have a greater need for protein. The guideline amount in this case is between 1g and 2g per kilogram of body weight, depending on the intensity.

Whether high protein products are useful depends on who consumes them and for what reason.

Natural protein sources

Many animal foods such as milk and dairy products like cheese, eggs, meat and fish are good natural sources of protein. But plant-based products such as pulses, nuts and grains are just as valuable. If we eat a varied, balanced diet, we have no trouble in meeting our daily protein requirements and can disregard high-protein products without a second thought.

Protein content in comparison (nutritional values per 100g / ml food)

  Red lentils
(BIO Migros)
High Protein Shake
(Oh! Migros)
Calories
336 63
Sugar
1 4,8
Protein
25 8,1
Carbohydrates
48 5
Fats
2 1,2
Fibre
13 0

It’s all in the combination

Protein products can be a useful supplement. However, there are advantages to consuming protein primarily through natural foods. For one, this means that we also consume other important nutrients. Secondly, our body can absorb the proteins better. Experts talk here of the “biological value”.

Examples of combinations that raise the biological value of proteins:

  • Eggs and potatoes
  • Wheat flour and milk
  • Egg and soya
  • Soya and rice

Benefits of protein products

  • To build muscles
    Products like protein shakes and protein bars promise quickly visible muscle growth. However, merely eating these commodities is not enough – effective, regular training is what creates results. For this reason, these protein-packed products only offer long-lasting benefits if you exercise regularly.
  • After competitive sports
    Regeneration is highly important for competitive athletes and also for ambitious amateurs. It’s therefore worth consuming protein after strenuous training. Many athletes find it easier to consume protein in liquid form or as a bar after training – in this case, a protein shake or protein bar makes sense.

The case against protein products

Foods with the promise of being “rich in protein” are often highly processed foods and do not replace a full meal. They contain fewer nutrients than natural foods and have an adverse effect on the body’s metabolism and digestion. Eating processed products too often reduces our intake of fruit, nuts and vegetables, with the result that the body lacks its supply of important secondary plant substances and dietary fibres.

Watch out for hidden sugar!

The high sugar content often present in protein drinks is problematic. Any of the following terms should make you think twice: glucose, sucrose, syrup, dextrose, fructose. After all, they all stand for sugar. Healthy sugar alternatives such as erythritol can help.

Protein excess – health-damaging in the long term

As components of proteins, amino acids are broken down in the body to form urea and excreted through the kidneys. For people with kidney disease, an excess of amino acids can overload their kidney function and be dangerous. People who suffer from liver disease should also limit their protein consumption as an excess of protein can be harmful in these cases too.

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