Protein-Enhanced Foods: The Good, Bad and Ugly

whey protein

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whey protein concentrate powder

Photo by: Marek Uliasz

Marek Uliasz

It seems like everywhere I turn, new and "improved" high protein-versions of seemingly healthy foods are being advertised. How do they boost the protein content? And are they really a good-for-you choice? So I did some digging, and it turns out, it depends!

Cereals

The addition of soy protein isolate will virtually double the amount of protein per serving but this doesn’t automatically make these cereals health food. Many of these breakfast cereals are still drenched in sugar. Read labels carefully and look for ones made with whole grains.

Flavored Waters

Protein-fortified waters may be the silliest choice out there. Water is water, no protein in sight. The blends are typically a mix of sweeteners (real and artificial) and colors, plus some whey protein isolate. These high-protein options will supply a few grams of protein per serving but they shouldn’t be used as a replacement for good old H2O.

Bars

The "protein bar" category is another catch-all for a variety of junk. Most bars contain some amount of whey and/or soy protein. Some will also include protein from nuts, seeds and legumes (hooray!).

Top Picks: Clif and LARA ALT
Breads

Many brands of tortillas and breads are offering products with a protein boost.  Thanks to the addition of wheat gluten and wheat and soy protein isolates, these slices have 2 to 3 grams more protein a serving. Bread lovers beware: Wheat gluten is hard to digest for some folks.

Top Pick: Regular whole grain bread -- there's plenty of protein in there.

Shakes and Powders

There's an unbelievable amount of variation in the quality and safety of protein shakes in liquid or powdered form. As a general rule, simple is best! First make sure all that extra protein is really necessary, then choose a product with a short ingredient list. Whey protein is a solid option but since it's made from dairy it's often a no-no for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. Another common problem with many of these drinks is the protein overload, so choose a brand with no more than 15 to 30 grams per serving; more than that is a waste (and may give you a tummy ache).

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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