Subscribe to the Health & The City Newsletter

Protein Products: What are they really doing to your health?

When it comes to weight loss, some form of fad diet is never far from the headlines. Whether it’s Paleo, Dukan or Atkins, many diets love to cut out the carbs and up the intake of protein and fat. These diets claim that carbs are the villain which is why you lose weight if you cut them out of your diet, when in reality they’re just another low-kilojoule diet. Remove a whole food group from your diet and you’re bound to lose weight (at least in the short-term). What many of us don’t consider when we start a fad diet however, is whether the diet is actually a healthy way to lose weight in the first place.

One thing I fail to understand with many fad diets is why people exclude nutritious whole foods and replace them with processed protein products, juices or shakes. Many fad dieters are scared to eat wholegrain breads, breakfast cereal, grains and fruit because they think they are the cause of their weight woes, yet many of them chow down on protein bars, powders and balls with ingredient lists so long they barely fit on the packaging. These products are highly processed and the ones that brag about being low carb, are sweetened with loads of sugar alcohols such as maltitol and xylitol.

Sugar alcohols are like a cross between an alcohol and sugar, but technically are neither. They are added to sugar-free products like protein powders, balls and bars, as they contain fewer kilojoules than regular sugar. But, like regular sugar they still raise blood sugar levels and they aren’t always the best for our gut, with large intakes known to induce gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, cramping and diarrhoea. But even more interesting is the fact that new research shows a high-protein diet may lead to the development of insulin resistance, just like eating too much of those nasty carbohydrates or fat. Combine the high-protein diet with a high-fat intake too and the chance of insulin resistance is even higher. Yet, the high protein diet and the array of products that go with it continue to fly off the selves.

Whether they are trying to lose weight, bulk up or maximise the benefits of a workout, protein products are a winner with gym goers. However, whether the individual actually needs them in the first place isn’t really considered. Just because a product is high in protein, doesn’t make it healthy or good for your waistline. While protein’s ability to keep us feeling fuller for longer makes it essential in a weight loss diet, eating and drinking your way through boxes and tins of protein will not help you achieve your health goals, particularly when it is at the expensive of nutritious whole foods.

While protein supplements can be beneficial for trying to gain weight or recover from a training session, most of us don’t train hard enough or long enough to warrant their use. Instead, we need to focus our attention on the eating adequate amounts of minimally processed foods. If we have our baseline nutrition perfect and we’re training twice a day, then we may benefit from including these protein products around our training sessions. However, if we only workout for an hour and then spend the rest of the day sedentary at our desk, then these protein products really shouldn’t have a place in our diet. Whole foods may not be seductive as protein products that brag about their endless weight loss benefits and come in enticing shiny packaging, but they are the natural (and cheaper) solution for achieving your goal weight and optimal health. Just try it – I’d love to hear how you go.

Do you think protein supplements, bars and balls help you achieve your weight and health goal?

Leave a reply