Are High in Protein Claims Being Abused These Days?

by Matt Weik

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the marketing of products these days is starting to get a little out of hand. Brands are making some pretty outlandish call-outs on labels and marketing materials and causing the naïve to be suckered into thinking that products with added protein are high in protein like the label claims. But not so fast. For many products, sure, they have added protein in them, but it’s a glorified unhealthy product. Many protein bars out there fit the bill. It’s simply a glorified candy bar.

Look, a turd is a turd regardless if you add chocolate to it or protein to call it high in protein. There are so many things zipping around in my head about this topic that we need to jump right into this.

Just Because it Says High in Protein Doesn’t Mean It’s a Good Choice

Protein cookies, protein brownies, protein bars, protein donuts, protein ice cream, protein popcorn… the list goes on and on. Many are deeming these products as functional foods. To me, eh, that’s kind of a stretch. Let me explain.

If you look at some of the products on the market today that claim to be high in protein, you need to take a deeper dive into the ingredients. While, indeed, the product may be high in protein (or at least able to say that based on the label breakdown – which I’ll get to in a bit), all the other macros could be astronomical.

As an example, let’s use the new AllMax Nutrition Hexapro Protein Popcorn (I don’t want to pick on them but their product is the perfect example of what I’m explaining). Many will look at the packaging, understand that it’s popcorn with added protein, wipe the drool from the side of their mouth, and yell “shut up and take my money!” And they have every right to do that – heck, the popcorn according to the packaging looks delicious. But when you turn it around and look at the label is where, in my opinion, the wheels fall off.

For starters, when you grab a bag of popcorn, we all know damn well that no one is going to look at the serving size. In the case of the AllMax popcorn, it’s four servings per container. Excuse me while I chuckle a little bit. That entire bag is going to get demolished in one sitting – let’s be real. But hey, if you have self-control, good for you if you can put the bag down after opening it.

Each serving of this high in protein popcorn is 250 calories, 12g fat, 29g carbohydrates, 15g sugar, and 10g protein. Let’s just do the math for everyone and consuming the whole bag will give you 1,000 calories, 48g fat, 116g carbohydrates, 60g sugar, and 40g protein. Now, I don’t want to pick on AllMax as they are just trying to provide consumers with a “healthy” snack. The problem is, it’s not. While it calls out on the packaging that it has 40g of protein, it doesn’t call out the fact that you’re probably going to be consuming half of your daily recommended calories from consuming the entire bag just to get the 40g of protein they are showing on the front of the packaging.

40g of protein and yielding 1,000 calories and a metric ton of sugar, carbs, and fats aren’t exactly my idea of a good time. If I wanted 40g of protein and some popcorn, I’d drink a protein shake that provides me 40g of protein and is under 300 calories with zero carbs and sugars. AND THEN, I’ll go make a single-serve bag of Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter Popcorn (the good unhealthy stuff loaded with buttery goodness) and eat the entire thing for 200 calories, 12g fat, 23g carbs, 0g sugar, and 3g protein. See where I’m going with this? Just because someone claims to be healthy or healthier for you doesn’t mean it is.

With my way of getting the 40g of protein and making my own popcorn, I saved around 500 calories, 36g of fat, 93g of carbs, and 60g of sugar. Now tell me, which option would you prefer? I’m going with the shake and popcorn all day, every day. And it’s cheaper too!

Are These Call-Outs a Good Thing?

The short answer is NO because clearly having that on the label doesn’t mean it’s a good option for you and your healthy lifestyle. Are they fine to eat in moderation? Absolutely. But so are things like ice cream, butter popcorn, donuts, you name it. The AllMax popcorn in the example above is not something I would ever tell someone to eat on a regular basis. The macros are completely out of whack. High in protein clearly only means it’s high in protein. Don’t think for one second that it means with the added protein it makes the profile a healthier option for you. That’s not necessarily the case and we need to be sure we aren’t being duped.

In order to legally call out “high in protein” on a label, the item must contain 20% or more of the recommended Daily Value (DV) per the Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACCs). In a nutshell, the daily value for protein comes out to 50g which would mean an item would need to have over 10g of protein in order for it to called high in protein.

There are brands using the high in protein call-outs to their advantage, and good for them even though they are working the system in a sense. Again, a chocolate turd is still a chocolate turd even if you load it with 10+ grams of protein and put “high in protein” on the front of the label. And there are even some brands who are claiming they are high in protein via their website when their protein content isn’t even high enough to be doing so.

In the end, what can we learn from this? It’s simple. Learn how to read labels. Just because the packaging is pretty and they have some call-outs that hit all the feels doesn’t mean it’s a good option for you. 40g of protein is awesome. 40g of protein with 1,000 calories and a boatload of fat, carbs, and sugar? No thank you.