Special Report: How Healthy is the High Protein Diet?

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01 May 2017 --- The last couple of years have seen the high protein trend take a dramatic upturn among consumers, with health advocators worldwide promoting the macronutrient as a key to beating hunger, increasing muscle strength and losing weight.

Today NutritionInsight looks at whether or not the high protein trend is of true benefit to consumers, and talks to some companies who are taking advantage of the trend to provide innovative protein packed products.

High Protein Diet: Good or Bad?
There’s no doubt that protein plays a crucial part in contributing to overall health, but the recent trend to increase intake to high levels has sparked some health concerns.

Suggestions that extremely high levels of protein are linked to cancer, liver damage and even heart disease have emerged over the last decade.

In November 2016, preliminary research showed how women over the age of 50 who follow a high-protein diet could be at higher risk for heart failure, especially if much of their protein comes from meat, and research from 2014 found that people who eat a diet rich in animal protein are four times more likely to die of cancer than someone with a low protein diet.

However, Chloe Miles, dietitian and BDA Spokesperson, told NutritionInsight that these risks have more to do with “where the protein is coming from.”

“Diet’s high in animal protein such as red meat may, also, be high in saturated fat which is thought to be bad for heart health,” Miles says.

“Diet’s which are high in plant protein, however, such as nuts, seeds and beans and pulses, are likely to be higher in fiber, which can be beneficial for gut health.”

However, she warns that, “If a diet focuses just on protein, then you may be missing out on other food groups and risk developing nutrient deficiencies.”

But in praise of protein, Miles explains how, “Various studies have shown that protein has a greater satiety than carbohydrates or fats, which may help to keep people fuller for longer - therefore reducing their overall calorie intake.”

Satiety of Protein
This ability of keep people fuller for longer is one of protein’s biggest selling points. In fact, “satiety” really is the magic word when it comes to the high protein trend, and companies are picking up on this.

“I think consumers in general recognize the nutritional benefits of protein to keep your belly full for longer and to maintain muscle mass,” Sven Thormahlen, Head of R&D at Arla told NutritionInsight.

As a manufacturer of dairy products, Thormahlen explains how consumers increasingly demand dairy products that are low on calories yet filling and tasty, and adds that, “high protein dairy provides that.”

Miles also acknowledged how consumer awareness about protein’s ability to keep people fuller for longer, and ultimately lose weight is impacting the trend. She said, “Some people find high protein diets an easier way to achieve an energy deficit as they find that it fills them up more.”

Protein’s Audience & What’s Driving the Trend
Thormahlen thinks that the protein trend is being driven by “the conversation around it in the press and on social media,” but adds that, “it’s difficult to narrow that effect down to specific audiences.”

“However we see clear indications that gym goers and younger women have taken the protein trend to heart - but the trend really transcends into many different audience groups,” he says.

He explains that ultimately, for Arla health, it is all about “creating good food habits.”

“Healthy eating is not about a single product but about having a balanced diet and high protein dairy certainly plays a role in that,” he said.

Dustin Cosgrove Sr., Director of Business Development at Milk Specialties Global believes the increased protein consumption is more than a trend, adding, “it's essential to people of all ages and ranges of active lifestyles.”

“We will continue to produce high quality dairy protein ingredients that follow consumers’ demands,” he says.

Dairy Driving the Protein Market

To date, the dairy industry has played a pivotal role in the growth of protein with whey protein products dominating the space.

Cosgrove Sr. explains to NutritionInsight how his company has experienced a positive impact due to the increased interest in healthy protein consumption.

“Milk Specialties Global has doubled in size over the past few years, and become the world's largest producer of whey protein isolate,” he says, adding, “We expect the demand and awareness for dairy protein to increase over time as consumers continue to look at protein favorably.”

However, Cosgrove notes that moving forward, more innovation is needed to capitalize on the growing trend.

“Conventional protein applications continue to own the majority of market share. But with that being said, we see new innovation as mandatory to ensure protein is available to consumers across a multitude of applications and delivery formats.”

“Consumers will look for additional protein options in different applications that are convenient within a busy lifestyle,” he says.

“This way they can consume dairy proteins that help support muscle growth and bone health, while complimenting their healthy lifestyles.”

Innovating Dairy Protein
Milk Specialties Global is not the only company making a splash in the dairy protein sector. Arla has recently added it’s existing range of products designed to give consumers a protein boost on the go.

“Protein rich dairy has been on the rise for years, something that Arla has been keen to capitalize on,” says Thormahlen, Head of R&D at Arla.

“In Arla we noticed the increased consumer protein awareness early on and we have continuously launched new products with a high protein content,” he said.

“Some of the significant new product releases are Arla Protein and Icelandic Skyr that has conquered much of Northern Europe.”

He explains how more and more of what consumers eat during a busy day is eaten on the go, and says that on-the-go dairy plays a part as a healthier snack.

“More meals are basically eaten while we are going somewhere and consumers want a perse range of options to feed that little hunger,” he said.

“In dairy products protein is complimented by calcium and important vitamins making it particularly popular for breakfast or as a snack on the go.”

He added, “Our innovation efforts into on-the-go dairy doesn’t mean that we are not coming up with other kinds of products to be eaten at home, but it certainly has been a growth area and will continue to be so in the future.”

The Problem with Promoting Protein
Despite the power of protein growing, there are still limits as to how companies can market the amount of protein in products, which could be an issue when it comes to catching consumers eyes.

Barney Mauleverer, co-founder of IAMSOUPER and the FUEL10K breakfast brand told NutritionInsight how he believes that, “protein is here to stay - but we think the labeling rule makers do need to catch up.”

“Even today there is a rule stating you cannot claim the gram’age of protein on the front of pack – which will no doubt cause issue for some brands.”

“We are seeing that the protein trend is normalizing,”

“There is growing acceptance of protein as a more everyday ingredient compared to when we first launched, when the assumption was that it was all about muscle building.”

Making Sure High Protein is Right for the Consumer
The trend to eat a high protein diet shows no signs of slowing, and with the dairy market making up just a corner of the huge sector, more options are being made available to the consumer than ever before.

It’s clear too that the diet does carry many health benefits, however, concerns around how much protein is too much remain, and Miles thinks companies should be aware that despite its popularity, high protein might not be ideal for all consumers.

“Food companies should bear in mind when marketing to consumers that a high protein diet may not be beneficial for everyone,” she says.

She adds, “If someone is unsure if they should have a high protein diet due to certain medical conditions then they should speak with a Health Professional.”

“I would always promote a healthy balanced diet including all of the food groups.”

By Hannah Gardiner

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