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What Experts Say About the “Protein Craze”

While flavor-of-the-month fads fire our imaginations before they flame out, genuine trends reflect changes in our eating patterns that can influence just about every facet of a health and fitness program.

A panel discussion at 2013 IDEA World Fitness dived into some of the hot-button dietary topics that are on Americans’ minds at the moment. Panelists delved into the protein craze, GMOs, plant-driven diets, cooking for kids, and the eating habits of Millennials, to name a few.

Here is an excerpt from the larger discussion that focused on what seems to be an obsession with getting more protein in the diet.


  • Moderator: Sandy Todd Webster, editor in chief of IDEA Fitness Journal
  • Jess Kolko, RDN, LD, dietitian and nutritionist with Whole Foods Market
  • Teri Gentes, speaker, educator, nutrition coach and author
  • Lourdes Castro, MS, RD, professor, chef and cookbook author

Webster: Like the fat-free, sugar-free and gluten-free marketing crazes we’ve seen for many years, food manufacturers have now caught on that putting the word “protein” on food labels offers a health halo effect that sells product. Protein is being touted mainly as a fat burner/weight loss bullet. Don’t most people get adequate protein in their diets without adding more? Are there significant ramifications from increasing protein intake? What can personal trainers tell their clients about protein to set them straight?

Kolko: As I said earlier, we definitely eat more protein than our bodies can handle. The ramifications are that we tax our organs, livers and kidneys. I had a friend, a very competitive CrossFit® guy, who put himself in a state of rhabdomyolysis from overconsumption of protein and heavy exercise. That was a real shocker, to see a 27-year-old in the hospital for a week trying to recover his kidneys.

Castro: I think now you see breakfast bars or you see other things marketed as being high in protein, and then people are making the assumption that they’re healthier for them. You don’t have an insulin response to protein, so people can eat a protein meal and not necessarily have that issue an hour later where they might feel jittery or whatever the case is.

Mixing your nutrients—having some fat with some greens, for example—is better in terms of absorbing your vitamins, but mixing your nutrients can also be good for slowing your digestion, which will keep your blood sugars level and a little bit more stable.

Some people might think they should have some protein in their diet in the form of lean meats, and that’s fine. But I think the craze is really focused on processed foods, like breakfast bars or the functional foods that people are going for, believing that these are going to be healthier for them than something else. If they are having more protein and let’s say fewer carbs, then they might be having less fiber, and that might affect their GI as well, which some people don’t really factor in.

Webster: So it sounds like the message here is to be wary of labels on processed foods that are screaming “protein” all over them.

Castro: “High in protein” is the new “low-fat,” and I don’t believe that that is necessarily where [we should be going].

To read the full article which ran in the March 2014 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal click here.

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