September 2019

3 healthy protein sources which can actually be bad for your health

Protein shakes/bars

Protein shakes and bars are very common among gym goers, both with those who are trying to build muscle and also for those who are trying to sustain muscle. They are also ideal for those who do not have time to cook and prepare food or have limited access to food immediately after exercise. As well as being suitable for gym-focused people, protein products have another purpose in assisting those who are being treated for dialysis, large wounds and diabetes.

Although protein shakes and bars seem to be a great product for many, there are certain varieties that can negatively impact your health rather than improve it. Certain varieties of bars and shakes are high in sugar as well as containing little to no fibre. Low fibre products can reduce your digestive health and there is also research which suggests a link between mental and digestive well-being, opening up a whole other range of health issues. Products like these can also contain lots of sugar to combat the bitter taste.

Most of the time, the average person is consuming more than enough protein (0.75g per kg body weight/day is the recommended allowance) which can be obtained from a varied diet of quality, whole food proteins. Powders are not as nutritionally dense as whole foods (which can contain dietary fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients – all of which protein shakes do not contain). Bars are more likely to contain fibre but some are packed full of sugar. However, if you are an athlete or body builder with a higher protein requirement (up to 1.7g per kg body weight a day) protein shakes and bars may benefit you.

Whey protein is the most popular protein powder on the market, but it comes in different varieties, all with different benefits. The breakdown of these can be seen below:

There is no concrete evidence to indicate which is best in terms of muscle growth and recovery – it all depends on what suits you.

  • Concentrate would suit someone who wants the maximum nutritional benefit of a protein shake and isn’t strictly dieting (due to the extra carbohydrates and fats).
  • Isolate and hydrolysate is ideal for those with lactose intolerance. Although whey protein contains little amounts of lactose, for those who are more sensitive, the more processed types of whey are found to be more tolerable. One downside to hydrolysate is that it can have a bitter taste.

Remember to always read the nutritional label before buying protein shakes and bars as you may be surprised with what is actually in them!

Vegan/veggie burgers

Due to issues around animal welfare, sustainability and health, more people year on year are resorting to plant-based diets. With a third of British shoppers claiming to follow a vegetarian diet and a sixth claiming to follow a vegan diet, the uptake of meat-free alternatives has been huge. There is a massive misconception that if a product is labelled as vegan or vegetarian then it must be healthy, but this is not always the case.

For example, let’s compare two ‘healthier’ products – meat-free and a traditional burger.

The green sections highlight the better nutrition

As you can see from the table above, the reduced fat burger is healthier overall compared to the vegetarian alternative. The most common nutritional issue with meat-alternatives is the salt content, which is often higher in these products due to palatability issues. A diet high in salt can cause issues with blood pressure which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Another point to highlight is the protein content. Although it appears that both burgers contain a substantial amount, there may be a difference in the quality of protein. Meat is a complete protein – this means it contains all of the essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and therefore must be consumed from the diet. On the other hand, vegan alternatives are made from plants which are not complete protein sources. However, if plants are eaten in certain combinations, then they can provide all of the essential amino acids. For example, grains and cereals are low in essential amino acid lysine, however legumes are rich lysine, and so when eaten together they can provide a full essential amino acid profile.

Although both burgers aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ for you, this example showcases that meat-free isn’t necessarily healthier. Therefore, you shouldn’t presume that just because something is advertised as vegetarian or vegan, that it is good for you, as this isn’t always the case.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is used by individuals for its high unsaturated fat content and great flavour. It is also a nutritionally dense food being rich in protein, magnesium, iron, zinc, unsaturated fats and vitamins B and E. You’re probably wondering how it could be unhealthy with so many positive benefits, but fat is still fat at the end of the day and calories can add up

The majority of fat in peanut butter is unsaturated fat at around 90% and the other 10% is saturated fats. While unsaturated fats have been shown to improve health, they still have the highest caloric value, with just 1 gram of fat equating to 9 calories. For example, in 1 tablespoon of peanut butter there are around 100 calories. So ideally you shouldn’t be consuming more than 2 tablespoons of peanut butter a day as part of a varied and balanced diet.

Another thing to consider is the saturated fat content. Ideally, you should be consuming less than 10% of your total caloric allowance (e.g. 2000kcals/day) on saturated fats. To put this into perspective this would be 200 calories worth or 22.2 grams of saturated fats, and in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter there is 2-3 grams of saturated fat.

So overall, peanut butter does have numerous health benefits, but just like most foods, it should be consumed in moderation and as part of a healthy and varied diet.