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Sandy Almendarez

July 23, 2010

19 Min Read
Keen on Protein

Sports nutrition has traditionally been big business in the natural-ingredient industry. Athletes of all types have looked for products that could help boost performance. High-school basketball players, body builders and weight lifters were the main users of these athletic-enhancing ingredients. They were mostly younger men who bought powders, shakes and bars; but now, such ingredients are finding their ways into other supplements and fortified foods that appeal to a larger consumer base.

Now, you may find man in his early 70s or a mom with two screaming kids bumping elbows with weekend warriors as they look for ways to add protein to their diets via dietary supplements or fortified foods. They may be looking for the same health benefit, or not. Adding protein to the diet can boost exercise recovery, help build muscle and increase satiety (which can lead to weight loss). Add to this new innovations that lead to a variety of delivery forms and a number of sourcing options, and its no wonder this market has undergone quite a bodybuilding experience itself.

Solaes research indicates more consumers associate the benefits of protein to satiety, or helping them feel fuller longer, and building and maintaining lean muscle mass, said Jean Heggie, marketing director at Solae. Interest and awareness of these benefits is what is really driving the introduction of more products positioned as high protein in the market today. She added, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), in 2009, 1,137 global product launches were positioned as "high protein, which was an increase of 36 percent compared to 2008. The top categories of foods with "high protein" claims were snack/cereal/energy bars, meat snacks, meal replacement and other beverages, meat substitutes and soy-based drinks, in that order.  

David Kraus, global application manager, Solbar, said consumers are looking to replace carbohydrates with protein, making this a hot category. People understand consuming a high amount of carbohydrates is not healthy, so people are looking for ways to reduce carbohydrates and the glycemic index (GI) of the foods they are eating. One of the ways to do that is by increasing the amount of protein in the diet. Another issue that is very fashionable is satiety. People would like to eat foods that make them fuller and happier for the longest time possible. If you consume simple sugars or high-GI products, you feel hungry quite quickly. When you consume proteins, you are not hungry for a long period of time.

And, consumers increasingly want health benefits from natural products. Driving interest is a growing distrust of nutrition labels that wear ingredients lists a yard long, and are brimming with words consumers can't understand, said Joe Stout, research scientist, Mt. Capra. Natural protein ingredients can solve this by having just three or four common ingredients on the label.

While the current daily recommended value (DRV) of protein is 46 g/d for women and 56 g/d for men, Mark Anderson, Triarcos director of R&D, said some experts have encouraged USDA to increase them, and he expects new guidelines later this year. Of course, whether or not these guidelines are eventually changed, Triarco is confident consumers care deeply about making the most of the protein they do consume, and want to get the best value for their supplement dollar.


Protein Pluses

The best value means good health benefits, which proteins of all kinds can provide. Anderson continued, We already know certain amino acids absorbed from protein are important for a range of physiological processes, including building hormones and neurotransmitters, immune function and tissue repair. This, in combination with improving manufacturing technologies, is increasing interest in whey for newer applications, like weight loss, sarcopenia and cardiovascular health.

The amino acids that make up proteins are joined together by peptide bonds, which provide health benefits, even when isolated. Our research shows peptides reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol or provide a satiety feeling, noted Jens Bleiel, chief executive officer, Food for Health Ireland (FHI), They also have antimicrobial properties. This offers the opportunity for food manufacturers to upgrade and add value to food products.

As noted by an RDV, protein is essential in the diet, as it provides the basis from which muscle tissue is constructed; however, some may find it difficult to get an adequate amount without supplements. Starla Paulsen, applications manager, Glanbia Nutritionals, noted protein supplementation can be particularly beneficial to certain groups, including pregnant and lactating women, Baby Boomers leading active lifestyles, children and the elderly.

A McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, study found protein does indeed help the young and the elderly, as researchers found consumption of milk-based and soy-based proteins in these populations increased the quality and possibly duration of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and suppressed muscle protein breakdown.1

Later that year, the same group of researchers found whey hydrolysate and soy protein also benefits MPS in young men.2 MPS was greater after supplementing with both of those proteins compared to micellar casein both at rest and after resistance exercise; however, whey hydrolysate stimulated MPS to a greater degree than soy after resistance exercise. The researchers supposed these differences may be related to how quickly the proteins are digested (whey and soy are digested faster than casein) or possibly to small differences in leucine content of each protein.

Additionally, studies have found proteins can reduce the recovery time after a workout. A Maastricht University, Netherlands, trial found adding a mixture of protein hydrolysate and amino acids to a carbohydrate-containing solution can stimulate glycogen synthesis, which reduces exercise-recovery time.3 Researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, determined supplementation with glutamine (an amino acid linked to protein synthesis) in high-level, endurance athletes (runners) reduced the accumulation of blood ammonia during prolonged, strenuous exercise in a field situation.4 Blood ammonia concentration increases during endurance exercise, and has been proposed as a cause for both peripheral and central fatigue.4 A year later, researchers from the same Brazil university found chronic supplementation with glutamine protects against exercise-induced hyperammonemia.5 High-intensity and prolonged exercise significantly enhances the levels of plasma ammonia, a metabolite with toxic effects on the central nervous system.

Milking It

Whey has been a staple in the natural protein market for decades, and Emilio Gutierrez, vice president of technical services, BI Nutraceuticals, said it is still the most popular product in this category due to its wide acceptance as one of the highest quality proteins available based on measures such as Biological Value, Protein Digestibility Score, Amino Acid Score and Protein Efficiency Ratio. Whey protein is known as a fast-acting protein, meaning it is metabolized and utilized quickly in the body, helping athletes with immediate muscle recovery needs, he said.

Whey protein is created as a byproduct of cheese production and is a good source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which fuel muscles, stimulate protein synthesis and form skeletal muscle tissue.

However, whey can also be made directly from milk. Whey proteins that come directly from milk hold great potential for food and beverage due to its high level of an amino acid profile, said Jing Hagert, international sales manager/market analyst, MilkSpecialties Global. Key attributes come from the production process that is more consistent in milk than cheese because it has not undergone the cheese-making process. Also, it requires fewer heat pasteurization steps, which reduces protein denaturation and preserves product solubility. And, whey proteins have a rich amino acid profile, are easy to absorb, and go into lean muscle.

Lorraine Niba, Ph.D., regional marketing manager - Americas, FrieslandCampina Domo, said whey protein hydrolysate is a top-selling protein for FrieslandCampina Domo. Whey protein hydrolysates have been shown to improve nitrogen utilization, and help with post-resistance exercise muscle protein synthesis, she said. When combined with carbohydrate, it also helps to increase availability of amino acids, as well as muscle glycogen synthesis.

Whey proteins can be processed in a variety of ways to produce distinct protein profiles and diverse health benefits, according to Paulsen. Ion exchange (IE) whey-protein isolate (WPI) contains high levels of beta-lactoglobulin and no glycomacropeptide, she explained. Alternatively, micro-filtrated (MF) WPI contains lower levels of beta-lactoglobulin, but high levels of glycomacropeptide. These variances offer different functional and nutritional benefits. For example, a WPI rich in beta-lactoglobulin provides an excellent source of essential and BCAAs, which help recovery after exercise. Alternatively, glycomacropeptide triggers hormones that may signal fullness and act as a satiety peptide. As a result, MF WPI could be used in a weight-management product.

Mt. Capra uses the whole protein in its whey ingredients, meaning it contains a natural ratio of whey to casein proteins. One of these proteins (whey) stimulates the body to make new proteins (muscle), while the other protein (casein) inhibits the body from breaking down protein that has already been made, Stout said. We have found that most manufacturers focus on offering either a whey protein isolate or a casein isolate (just the isolate and nothing else), but research indicates these proteins are synergistic in nature and work together for a sum greater than the parts.

Whey proteins have been combined with other natural products to enhance its effects. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found when taken with whey protein, a patented blend of digestive protease enzymes (Aminogen® from Triarco Industries) increased the level of amino acids absorbed by 100 percent, BCAAs by 250 percent and nitrogen retention by 32 percent.6 Anderson added, Aminogen has been shown to increase levels of specific amino acids absorbed from whey protein like leucine, that influence metabolism and discourage fat storage. In Triarcos clinical study, Aminogen increased leucine levels alone by 230 percent. Other amino acids increased by Aminogen, such as glutamine, are key for immune system function. Further, he noted Aminogen can help to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of incomplete protein digestion that makes many consumers shy away from protein supplements, such as gas, bloating and constipation.

Other proteins found in milk are being investigated for their natural health benefits. Food for Health Ireland (FHI), a new organization funded by the Irish government and four dairy companies in Ireland, are conducting intelligent milk mining, according to Bleiel, which means investigating milk proteins for their benefits to human health. The idea is to get the healthy parts of the milk, and try to bring those natural health ingredients from the milk into other food matrices, he said. A lot of children dont like to drink milk, and a lot of parents are concerned because everyone understands that milk has some very healthy benefits. Why not take these healthy benefits out of milk and add them to other food matrices that are more attractive to children, elderly people or those that simply dont like milk? FHI started its research in 2009, and has not yet released any study results, noted Bleiel; however, he said in vitro analysis shows interesting results and human studies are on the way.

Firmly-Planted Proteins

Proteins derived from animals, such as whey, have long been popular, but many consumers, and thus product manufacturers, are interested in plant-based proteins for economical and ethical reasons. Stated Heggie, It is well-documented that plant-based proteins, specifically soy protein, enjoy inherent environmental advantages compared to animal-based proteins. Soybeans produce more usable protein per acre of farmland than meat, dairy and egg protein, and require less water, energy and natural resources in production. Forecasted growth in world population will drive growth in demand for high-quality protein sources beyond what traditional animal sources can supply.

Luckily for those who wish to stay away from animal products, plant-based proteins offer myriad health benefits. Plant-based proteins are continuing to be evaluated in the growing protein market, as many offer an abundance of not only protein, but vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids, just to name a few, said Matt Phillips, president of Cyvex Nutrition.

One recently published study found a low-carbohydrate, high-vegetable protein plant-based diet (aka the Eco-Atkins Diet) resulted in the same weight loss as low-carbohydrate Atkins-like diets.7 Additionally, the researchers found, compared to a high-carbohydrate, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, the Eco-Atkins Diet was associated with significantly reduced concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Low LDL is not usually a result in the majority of low-carbohydrate Atkins-like diets in which the protein and fat are largely of animal origin.

Kraus said soy protein in particular is one of highest nutritious proteins, especially among the vegetable sources of protein. If you look at essential amino acid profile of isolated soy protein, its normally rated as among the three best nutritional proteins, which are egg protein, milk protein and isolated soy protein, he said. We use a system called PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrective amino acids score), which is an evaluation of the nutritional value of the protein. Normally the grade that isolated soy proteins gets is a 1, which is the highest possible grade you can get. Wheat gluten for example is normally rated around 0.25, and meat protein is around 0.9 or 0.95.

Michelle Braun, Ph.D., Solae Nutrition Science, noted soy protein increases satiety, aids weight loss and benefits the heart. In fact, the heart-health benefits led FDA to approve the health claim 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of (brand name of food) supplies (xx) grams of soy protein in 1999.

Ten years later, a Canadian study found consumption of soy protein isolate (as a powder provided by Solae) reduced serum LDL cholesterol (P=0.04), the LDL cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ratio (P=0.02), and the apolipoprotein B to apolipoprotein A-I (P=0.05) ratio compared with milk protein isolate in adults with type 2 diabetes, signifying a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).8

Beyond the heart-health benefit, Greg Paul, Ph.D., global director of sports nutrition at Solae, recently had a review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, that noted isolated soy proteins and whey proteins demonstrate similar increases in lean body mass, and isolated soy proteins contain natural bioactive substances that enhance plasma antioxidant activity.9

Soy isnt the only plant-based protein making waves in the natural industry. Gutierrez said BIs newest protein ingredient is quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.), which contains 12 to 18 percent protein. An exciting characteristic of quinoa is that it is a vegetarian source of protein and is also a complete protein, which is a rare combination, he said. This offers vegetarian athletes a great source of high-quality protein. Quinoa also has a low GI and it is gluten-free. Quinoa is high in vitamins, minerals and fibers making it an excellent ingredient for food fortification or as a simple stand alone supplement.

A University of Chile review noted quinoa has remarkable nutritional properties, including protein content, amino acid balance, minerals, vitamins, polyphenols, phytosterols, omega-6s and flavonoids with possible nutraceutical benefits.10 The review also said quinoa has some functional properties like solubility, water-holding capacity (WHC), gelation, emulsifying, viscosity, freeze stability and foaming that allow diversified uses and functional properties.

Cyvex offers an alfalfa juice protein concentrate ingredient called AlfaPro, made from 100-percent young alfalfa plants that are free of pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition to containing more than 50-percent concentrated protein, Cyvexs Alfapro provides a rich nutritional source of several essential vitamins, minerals and other nutritionally beneficial properties, including vitamins B1, B2, B6, B7 and vitamin E; essential minerals including potassium, magnesium and calcium; 18 amino acids for cell generation and repair; lutein and zeaxanthin to improve eye health; and chlorophyll, a natural detoxifier for the liver and a body odor neutralizer, Phillips said.

Alfalfa protein is also quite digestible, as one in vitro study conducted by USDA measured the digestibility of alfalfa-protein concentrates to be between 80.5 percent to 99.9 percent.11

BI also offers a chia seed ingredient touted for its protein content, and Anne V. Brown, senior market manager, Scoular, noted its portfolio includes wheat and pea proteins. Scoular's hydrolyzed wheat protein and traditional wheat protein offer an effective way to formulate low-carbohydrate/low-glycemic baked goods while maintaining texture and flavor profiles of traditional bakery items, she said, adding, Our pea protein concentrate offers low-allergen formulation options with a neutral flavor profile.

Formulation and the Future

Brown continued that all forms of natural proteins are showing up in more products, allowing manufacturers the opportunity to offer customers a slew of choices. Proteins have long been used in diet products to help manage satiety, so it is no surprise snack-food manufacturers are looking more to incorporate them often in combination with fiber. We are seeing healthy options in bars, snacks, baked goods and beverage becoming more mainstream. She added the most dynamic sector is baked goods because it appeals to a wide consumer base.

Niba said common delivery systems for protein ingredients are bars, shakes, mixes or supplements due to the pH sensitivity that cause some proteins to coagulate in shelf-stable beverage systems. The most innovative product releases are protein gels, she added.

Gutierrez said the health and fitness category has historically driven the largest demand for high-protein products, but expects new growth will come from the food industry. Food manufacturers continue to look to the dietary supplement industry for ingredients that can revive their products and allow them to make attractive claims, he said. These ingredients perfectly lend themselves to those types of applications. He listed chips, cereals, cookies and brownies as new protein product launches.

Heggie added yogurts and meat substitutes to the list, and Paulsen noted whey proteins can be added seamlessly to dairy desserts.

Bleiel broke it down globally: In the United States, supplements and bars are popular. In Europe, the most attractive delivery system for a new health ingredient is the dairy industry, so were talking yogurt or dairy shots, and milk drinks. In the Asian markets, a lot of functional ingredients are offered in drinks and 50- or 100-mL shots; it could be water or natural juice drinks. If you look at the overall trends, the healthiest category right now is 100-percent natural juices.

Newer formulation technologies have allowed for this growth in product introductions, as Bleiel continued, We are working with encapsulation technology, where you protect the protein or the peptide, so it is not digested right away in the body. It maintains a longer time in the digestive tract and displays its functionality at a later state. It also makes them easier to formulate in the food matrix, because proteins are reactive with sugars, light, liquid and heat. It helps create a longer shelf life.

While not necessarily new, popular technologies for protein formulation include agglomeration and pre-digestion or hydrolysis. Agglomeration helps with dispersibility, particularly for instant mixes and shakes, Niba said. Pre-digestion and hydrolysis helps to enhance absorption and availability of amino acids.

David Sabbagh, senior group leader of global applications, food science and technology at Solae, echoed the importance of proper dispersion and hydration. Dispersion is the mechanism of introducing powder into water, resulting in a homogeneous slurry without lumps. It needs to occur before the proteins can hydrate. Hydration is the incorporation of water into the hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions of the protein molecule. It is necessary for achieving smooth mouthfeel, suspension stability, effective spore inactivation during ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing, and uniform and consistent emulsion quality.

With ingredient integrity at stake, it can be difficult to keep formulation costs low, noted Brown. One challenge is in keeping proteins cost effective and still natural, while producing as pure a product as possible with highest obtainable protein levels, she said, adding, Cost will be a key issue in ensuring that the use of protein in foods continues to grow.

Many in the industry expect this growth. The future is bright for natural protein ingredients, Stout said. For one thing, more people are interested in getting back to nature. They are beginning to see a genuine quality in natural whole-food supplements that haven't been messed with. Basically, the less you process a protein, the healthier it is going to be, and the more interest the consumer is going to have in that product.

Added Hagert: The demand for protein ingredients is huge. Due to the health and wellness lifestyle trend, the need for innovating new food and beverages for this market will continue to grow. As more technology develops, it will only continue to expand globally.

New technologies and more products that entice the growing number of athletes, Boomers, moms and teenagers concerned with synthetic ingredients is sure to increase interest and sales of natural protein ingredients, be they animal or plant based.

References are on the next page

References for Keen on Protein

1.            Tang JE, Phillips SM Maximizing muscle protein anabolism: the role of protein quality. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 Jan;12(1):66-71.

2.            Tang JE, et al. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men J Appl Physiol. 2009 Sep;107(3):987-92.

3.            van Loon L. et al. Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 72, No. 1, 106-111, July 2000

4.            Carvalho-Peixoto J, Alves RC, Cameron LC. Glutamine and carbohydrate supplements reduce ammonemia increase during endurance field exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Dec;32(6):1186-90.

5.            Bassini-Cameron A, et al. Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Apr;42(4):260-6

6.            Oben J, Kothari SC, Anderson ML. An open label study to determine the effects of an oral proteolytic enzyme system on whey protein concentrate metabolism in healthy males. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Jul 24;5:10.

7.            Jenkins DJ, et al. The effect of a plant-based low-carbohydrate ("Eco-Atkins") diet on body weight and blood lipid concentrations in hyperlipidemic subjects. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Jun 8;169(11):1046-54.

8.            Pipe EA, Gobert CP, Capes SE, Darlington GA, Lampe JW, Duncan AM. Soy protein reduces serum LDL cholesterol and the LDL cholesterol:HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B:apolipoprotein A-I ratios in adults with type 2 diabetes. J Nutr. 2009 Sep;139(9):1700-6.

9.            Paul GL. The rationale for consuming protein blends in sports nutrition. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28 Suppl:464S-472S.

10.          Abugoch James LE. Chapter 1 Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Composition, chemistry, nutritional, and functional properties. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2009;58:1-31.

11.          Saunders RM, et al. Measurement of digestibility of alfalfa protein concentrated by in vivo and in vitro methods J Nutr. 2009 Nov 9;530-5

About the Author(s)

Sandy Almendarez

editor in chief, Informa

Sandy Almendarez entered the natural products industry in 2009 when she joined Virgo Publishing (now Informa Exhibitions) as an assistant editor. Since then, she's worked her way up to editor in chief where she writes, edits and manages content for INSIDER. Under Sandy’s direction, INSIDER has won editorial awards from Folio: every year since 2014, including B2B Editorial Team of the Year in 2015.

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