‘The idea of ​​food as medicine is as old as the road to Rome’

can it be a little more? Extra protein is (still) the trend


Protein, what is it good for? And do we need extra protein? The Nutrition Center does not think so. The Dutch diet has set the amount of the nutrient that adults need to function properly – for example, to build cells, maintain muscle tissue and maintain strong bones – at 0.83 grams per serving. kilograms of body weight. A protein deficiency is rare, and a varied diet already contains enough protein from dairy products, nuts, legumes, grains, meat and fish, according to the institution. In addition, the products with added proteins often also contain a lot of sugar, salt or saturated fat, which the Nutrition Center does not recommend. At the same time, the elderly need extra protein because its intake decreases with age. And sick people also need more protein, as do people who have just had surgery, people who are malnourished, pregnant and lactating women, and vegetarians and vegans who get their protein mainly from plant-based foods. Therefore, vegetable proteins are absorbed less efficiently from food than animal proteins. Are the protein-rich products on the shelves these days intended for these groups? The Nutrition Center maintains that a varied diet must also provide sufficient protein for these people. In other words: extra protein provides no health benefits. Nevertheless, the popularity of products with extra protein remains high. What’s up with that?

At least people who are not sporty can eat sporty

Hard and masculine
“The idea of ​​food as medicine is as old as the road to Rome. Hippocrates said: ‘Let food be your medicine’. The idea of ​​food as medicine is also reflected in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), explains food designer and food trend observer Mariëlle Bordewijk, before she places the protein trend in modern history: “In the eighties and nineties of the last century they said, ‘Beware of fat’. At the beginning of the 21st century, sugar and carbohydrates were forbidden. People then wondered what they could eat.” Of the three macronutrients fat, carbohydrates and protein, only the latter remained. Protein is good for you, was the message. This was boosted even more by the sports world, where protein is used for muscle building and recovery.”
This link with sports gives protein a cool and masculine image, which is reinforced by the packaging of the protein-rich products that you sometimes find on the shelf, which contain a lot of black. Bordewijk: “Fitgirls and fitboys showed on social media the results of many sports and what they consume around sports. Protein-rich food was then framed as hardy. At least people who are not sporty can eat sporty.” Eating products with extra protein therefore also gives non-athletes the feeling of being part of that world. This may partly explain the popularity of foods, to which protein has been added.

Strict supervision
But that’s not all. Bordewijk explains that strong trends often arise from several driving forces that coincide. This is also the case here. Because at the same time as the emergence of fitboys and girls, the plant-based trend came into fashion. Animal products are a good source of protein; when they are no longer used, the plants must take over that task. “More plant-based food requires knowledge. It is good to know which plants are rich in protein. Vegetarians and vegans therefore choose pasta made from lentils or chickpeas instead of, for example, wheat in order to still cover their protein needs,’ says Bordewijk. Can you see the products with extra protein as functional food? “Food is said to be functional when it promises a health benefit, and this is the case with protein-enriched foods. Protein is one of the macronutrients and in functional food micronutrients are often used to promote health; vitamins and minerals that we only need in small amounts. However, claims about the health effects of products enriched with macro- and micronutrients are under close scrutiny. This is why you see an implicit message on the packaging of foods with extra protein such as ‘high in protein’ or ‘source of protein'”, says Bordewijk. She adds that distinguishing and analyzing the active ingredients in the food is something typically Western: “In Ayurveda and TCM, for example, it says that turmeric is good for this and garlic is good for that. We in the West, on the other hand, want to know exactly which building block helps where. In practice, you see that foods sometimes rely on the more holistic approach – think ‘soothing tea’ of chamomile and lavender, where it doesn’t say which substance is responsible for this – and sometimes on the nutrients. For example, the packaging says: ‘with vitamin B3 to increase concentration’.”
Protein also has another advantage for food manufacturers: it is quite heavy. Bordewijk: “Producers can use quite a few grams per product. You can never say that about vitamins.” Consumers therefore get the message: Protein is good for you, and this product contains 20 grams. No wonder the protein trend is catching on! Bordewijk expects this to be a permanent phenomenon: “The biggest growth has already happened, but there is a group that is sensitive to these products. And as long as that is the case, the protein-enriched products will continue to populate the shelves.”

Meanwhile, another trend is emerging. It is our intestines that need to be treated this time. “The gut is linked to all sorts of health issues, including our psychological health and the immune system. All sorts of bacteria live in our guts and we can influence them by taking prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics. It’s an exciting area and I expect this is going to be very big in the near future,” says Bordewijk. Some gut-stimulating foods are old, she admits. We’ve known for a long time that fiber stimulates gut flora. But Bordewijk is convinced that fermented products will take off and that the work of the bacterial strains both in terms of health and taste will gain greater appreciation thanks to new knowledge about the intestines and the bacteria that live in them. She also sees extra attention being paid to the cultures in yogurt and on pickled vegetables and sourdough bread. Probiotic gummy bears and cultured ice are already on sale in the USA.
But it gets even more interesting. Bordewijk: “Each individual has a unique microbiome, which is all the microorganisms in our body. There are already companies that investigate which bacterial strains live in your intestines from a sample of your stool. They will give you tailored nutritional advice based on the research results. ” Now let’s wait and see how the food industry will react to this.

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