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Making Sense of Protein on the Label

by Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD on Dec 09, 2013

Many food products contain extra protein. Here’s a list of the most common protein boosters:

Whey. This milk-derived complete protein contains high amounts of branched-chain amino acids, such as leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are depleted following exercise and are needed for proper postexercise repair. Whey isolates are lower in lactose, fat and cholesterol than whey protein concentrate. Whey hydrosolates are predigested and more easily absorbed than nonhydrolyzed versions of whey. Ion-exchange purified whey is the most pure of all whey proteins, but it has fewer immunoglobulins. Those with milk protein allergies need to avoid whey, but most with lactose intolerance can consume whey without side effects (Consumer Lab 2013).

Casein. Another complete milk protein, casein is high in glutamine and more slowly digested and absorbed than whey. Calcium caseinate is a great source of calcium.

Soy. This legume is the only plant-based complete protein. Soy isolates are loaded with isoflavones like genistein and daidzein. Soy isolates are commonly added to cereals and other baked foods to boost protein content.

Rice. This staple protein lacks the essential amino acid isoleucine but can be combined with soy to create a complete protein. Considered hypoallergenic and easy to absorb, rice protein is often added to baby foods.

Natico. Derived from hydrolyzed marine collagen, it readily dissolves and becomes clear in liquids, making it an ideal choice for protein fortification of clear beverages, jellies and gummies. Those allergic to seafood should avoid natico.

Pea protein. A relatively new protein powder, it is highly digestible but incomplete, lacking methionine and cysteine. However, it is rich in lysine and boasts a low-allergic-reaction profile.

Wheat protein. An incomplete protein rich in the essential amino acid glutamine, this abundantly available source is used as a protein booster in cereals, granola bars and other baked snacks. The wheat protein gluten may be an issue for those with gluten allergies or intolerances.

To view the full article from the November-December 2013 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal click here.


Consumer Lab. 2013. Product review: Protein powders and drinks review—for Bodybuilding, Sports & Dieting.; accessed June 30, 2013.

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About the Author

Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD

Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD IDEA Author/Presenter

Martina Cartwright is a registered dietitian (R.D.) with a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science and Biomolecular Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has more than 20 years experience in medical education, scientific research and clinical practice in both the academic and pharmaceutical settings. Martina's nutrition education and clinical interests are intensive care medicine/surgery/trauma, eating disorders and cardiovascular/wellness and sports nutrition. Earlier in her career, Martina served as a nutrition consultant to the Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas and dietitian for the Las Vegas Canyon Ranch Spa. A contributor to articles featured in Redbook and Health, Martina continues to be a featured presenter at scientific-medical conferences and symposia. Dr. Cartwright is an adjunct faculty member within the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and she works as a an independent biomedical consultant and author in Scottsdale Arizona.