April 23, 2012

14 Min Read
Pumping up Protein

By Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

Since the Great Depression, adequate protein intake has not been a concern for most Americans, as meat, poultry and other forms of animal proteins are readily available and even, typically, overconsumed. In fact, Americans are often criticized for their excessive intake of animal proteins, as many forms tend to be high in fat, particularly saturated fatty acids.

This is one of a number of motivating factors behind the Meatless Monday movement, which emphasizes that going meatless once a week may reduce the risk of chronic preventable conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, all of which are related to excessive dietary fat intake. But for many health-and wellness-conscious consumers, giving up meateven if just on Mondayhas them seeking out other sources of quality protein. This is because, during the past decade, scientists have discovered that this macronutrient influences numerous bodily functions, most notably prevention of muscle loss and maintenance of muscle function, and also provides a sense of fullness, which in turn can assist with weight loss and weight management.

Protein ingredients are available from many sources and are increasingly being added to everyday foods, including snack bars, beverages, yogurt and cookies," says Rachel Marshall, marketing manager, nutrition, Fonterra (USA) Inc, Rosemont, IL. The more protein is incorporated into foods people eat regularly, the easier it is for consumers to reap the benefits of a protein-rich diet."

Consumer opinion

Earlier this year, in order to gain a better understanding of Americans knowledge of the importance of dietary protein, Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, CA, sponsored a nationwide phone survey of 1,000 people over the age of 18. Results revealed that just 35% of Americans understand their protein needs even though they know other essential health and fitness facts, such as how much water to drink and how often they should exercise.

This is expected to change. According to the 2011 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey conducted by International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, D.C., an impressive 87% of the 1,000 consumers who participated in this web-based survey understand that protein, in general, supports overall health and well-being, while an impressive 86% are aware of the weight-management connection. More than half of those aware of these connections say they are already eating the protein they need to reap these benefits, while almost all of the remaining consumers plan to increase their intake within the year.

While this awareness was likely started with the popularity of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets such as Atkins in the late 90s, consumers are learning that dietary protein intake is associated with myriad positive health-and-wellness benefits," says Jessica Henry, marketing assistant, Idaho Milk Products, Jerome, ID.

Gwen Bargetzi, director of marketing, Hilmar Ingredients, Hilmar, CA, adds, Consumer interest in protein, and knowledge about the benefits of protein in the diet, is increasing, opening the door for a whole new world of opportunities. Three main trends are coalescing. Theres the recognition that protein should be consumed throughout the day; that protein is important for muscle health in the general population, not just among body builders; and finally, the need for high-quality protein fortification in emerging diets that rely on less meat-centric meals."

In response, food product designers of all types of foods and beverages are adding various protein-rich ingredients to formulations in order to make a nutrient-content claim. A good source of protein" claim indicates that a single serving contains 10% to 19% of the Daily Value (5 to 9 grams) for protein. An excellent source of protein" claim suggests that a serving contains 20% or more of the Daily Value (10 grams or more).  

Communicating protein quality

Protein ingredients come from either animal or plant sources and vary in composition, which dictates the proteins quality. There are a number of ways to quantify the quality of protein. They all take into consideration the presence of the nine essential amino acidshistidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine(out of 22 known amino acids), as well as their occurrence in a pattern that closely matches the human bodys needs. Proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids, and in the right proportions, are characterized as complete proteins."

A calculation referred to as the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) was adopted by FDA in 1993 as the preferred best" method to determine protein quality. This globally recognized measure rates a proteins ability to supply humans with the essential amino acids and is corrected for digestibility, or the amount of protein that is absorbed, with the highest PDCAAS being a 1.0. As a reference, the PDCAAS uses the amino-acid requirements specified by the World Health Organization (WHO) for two to five-year-old children, as preschoolers are the most demanding group for dietary protein other than infants.

The % Daily Value for protein, as listed on the Nutrition Facts of a packaged food or beverage, takes into consideration the PDCAAS of all the sources of protein in a formulation. And by no means are all proteins created equal. For example, whole wheat and beef have PCDAAS of 0.42 and 0.92, respectively, while whole egg, egg white, milk, cheese, whey protein, casein and soy-protein concentrate all have a PDCAAS of 1.0. 

Recent advancements in protein extraction technologies have resulted in a number of new plant protein sources with relatively high PDCAAS. For example, pea protein has a PDCAAS value of 0.93, while canola protein isolate claims a perfect PDCAAS score of 1.0.

Because many protein ingredients contribute functionality in addition to nutrition, designers are finding that often its a combination of proteins that works best. And, with a growing pool of proteins to choose from, these combinations are endless, which is making it easier to fortify all types of foods and beverages.

Meatless does not mean vegan

If a vegan claim is not being made, animal-derived protein ingredients complement many formulations. For example, a growing number of meat alternatives rely on cheese as a source of flavor and color, in addition to nutrition.

Gelatin and collagen proteins have long been a source of protein to food formulators," says Mindi McKibbin, edible technical services specialist, Gelita USA, Sergeant Bluff, IA. They are neutral in both taste and odor, and contribute little color to final products." However, gelatin and collagen peptides lack the essential amino acid tryptophan, and therefore are not considered complete proteins. As such, they are commonly used in combination with other proteins. The most import physical property of gelatin is its ability to form a reversible gel, which is important in certain applications," adds McKibbin. In fact, gelatin can be used to simulate that melt-in-your-mouth sensation of animal fat in meatless center-of-plate alternatives, as well as fat-free yogurt. 

Collagen peptides, on the other hand, do not gel and thus are ideal for protein beverages, protein bars and other protein-fortified applications," says McKibbin. In beverage applications, collagen peptides are stable at all pH levels. They do not precipitate when used alone, and when used with other proteins, they help to stabilize the system. In protein bars, they help bind water and maintain a soft, chewy texture throughout shelf-life."

Egg products are also highly functional proteins that can be used in ovo-vegetarian products. There are more than 40 different proteins in a whole egg, some only located in the white and others predominately in the yolk," says Elisa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing, American Egg Board, Park Ridge, IL. These proteins influence the rate of denaturation and coagulation, which in turn are responsible for a number of the more than 20 unique functionalities that egg products bring to product formulations, such as binding ingredients, foaming and tenderization.

Further, the carotenoids in the lipid portion of lipoproteins provide the rich yellow color found in the yolk and can provide a rich, yellow hue to some applications," Maloberti adds. Egg proteins also contribute to browning."

When it comes to flavor, eggs, though inherently bland, are recognized as providing well-rounded yet neutral richness that can stand on its own in some applications or serve as a backdrop to allow more strongly flavored tastes to come out, Maloberti explains.

Milking proteins

Dairy proteins can be divided into three different groups, according to Luis Hernandez, senior application scientist, Fonterra. There are casein ingredients (caseinates, casein hydrolysates and micellar casein), whey ingredients (whey protein concentrates, whey protein isolates, or WPI, whey powders and whey protein hydrolysates) and milk ingredients, which contain both casein and whey proteins. The latter includes nonfat dry milk, whole-milk powder, milk protein concentrates (MPC) and milk protein isolates, as well as liquid milk and even products such as cheese and yogurt.

This wide range of ingredients varies in protein content and functionality, with some dairy proteins used purely for their functional benefits. For example, dairy proteins can emulsify sauces or improve the texture of yogurt," says Loren Ward, director of R&D, Glanbia Nutritionals, Twin Falls, ID. Dairy-derived protein ingredients can also be used to clean up labels, replacing other ingredients that would be less recognizable, and therefore less appealing, to consumers. 

Other dairy ingredients are used as both a source of quality protein, as well as for functionality," Ward continues. For example, some whey protein ingredients can boost the protein level of Greek-style yogurts while also contributing to a desirable thicker, denser texture and body. Some milk protein concentrates boost the protein levels of dry mix and ready-to-drink meal replacement beverages, while also contributing a thick, rich mouthfeel."

Henry adds: We have learned that MPC provides unique satiety benefit. Containing approximately 20% whey proteins, which are fast digesting, and 80% of the slower-digesting casein proteins, when MPC is part of a weight loss or maintenance food or beverage, it provides both immediate and longer-term satiety benefits.

Our Grade A MPC and milk protein isolate, which is simply a more concentrated form of MPC with the same proportion of whey and casein, is made using a proprietary cold-filtration process, whereby fresh pasteurized skim milk proteins are separated from the lactose and mineral portion of the milk," says Henry. Then they are concentrated and dried into food ingredients that contain all the fractions of milk proteins in the same ratio as they are naturally occurring in milk."

The low-heat process ensures that the proteins remain intact (undenatured) for optimal nutrition and functionality. MPC has become a favorite protein for use in yogurt, as it will bind water and allow manufacturers to use lower levels of hydrocolloids, which can improve the flavor and quality of yogurt," Henry says. For other dairy applications, such as cheese and processed cheese, MPC provides nutrition and stabilization without significantly changing the products overall dairy composition."

Some suppliers have designed specialty dairy proteins that provide specific functions. We have a WPI that was designed specifically for clear, acid beverages, enabling a more water-like experience for the consumer while still delivering high-quality whey proteins," says Marshall. For milky formulations, we have a specialized functional MPC that offers improved texture and stability compared to standard MPCs in neutral high-protein beverage applications.

In the past, the use of whey protein ingredients in bars was limited due to their chewy properties and hardening over time," says Marshall. Recent developments in functional whey protein ingredients enable higher levels of whey to be incorporated into bars without the detrimental effects on texture, enabling brand owners to deliver more whey in a bar than ever before. One such ingredient can be used as a sole source of protein for bars and delivers up to 35% protein."

Grace Harris, director of applications and business development, Hilmar Ingredients, adds that whey proteins can be added to cereal items in the form of whey crisps. These crisps provide texture and crunch in granola-type cereals," she says. Whey proteins can also be used in hot cereals, such as oatmeal and porridge, to provide protein fortification and creaminess in texture.

In addition to boosting the protein levels in meat alternatives ranging from veggie burgers to breaded meat-free frozen burritos, whey proteins can be used to increase gelling and water binding, as well as to bind other ingredients," adds Harris.

Specialty whey proteins have been designed for weight-loss foods. Low-calorie diets result in a negative energy balance, which translates to the catabolism of equal proportions of muscle and body fat for energy. The ratio at which muscle tissue and body fat is catabolized for energy can be altered by ingesting anabolic proteins and peptides," says Ward. We offer a whey protein that provides the anabolic response needed to maintain and limit muscle catabolism and promote body fat utilization as the primary endogenous energy source."

Further, as people age, there is a reduction in lean body mass, and metabolic rate decreases as does physical activity, contributing to an overall reduction in energy needs. Protein intake is an important determinant of optimal function and prevention of sarcopenia (degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength associated with aging).

Whey proteins ability to provide an anabolic advantage over other proteins in promoting muscle makes them attractive in foods for older consumers. This function is believed to be due to the high level of the essential amino acid leucine in whey ingredients, as leucine ignites protein synthesis in the body.

Traditional plant proteins

Flavor, texture and functionality have typically limited use levels of various plant proteins in most applications. Further, most legumes and grains are not complete proteins and have PDCAAS below 0.75. Select ancient and specialty grains, including buckwheat and quinoa, as well as some plant seeds, in particular flax and hemp, are complete proteins that provide additional nutritional benefits, including fiber, vitamins and minerals.

We market whole-grain brown rice proteins, which are recognized as being hypoallergenic, an important attribute in formulations for sensitive consumers," says Dan Force, protein product manager, Prinova USA, Carol Stream, IL. Available in multiple protein levels, they are a complete protein with a PDCAAS of 1.0. With a bland to slightly sweet taste profile, they can be used as complete replacement for or in conjunction with soy and whey proteins."

Pea protein is a newer ingredient valued for its high solubility (70%), as well as its PDCAAS value of 0.93. Pea protein has received significant recognition for its premium color, mouthfeel and neutral taste," says Force. These attributes allow for more highly concentrated use and new product applications, including puddings and confectionery."

Kevin Segall, research scientist, Burcon NutraScience Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, says, Our novel pea protein isolate is 100% soluble at low pH and has a clean flavor suitable for acidic beverage systems and a variety of other food applications." It is extracted from field peas, a non-oilseed source of quality protein that also is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

An emerging plant-based protein source is rapeseed, more commonly known as canola in North America.  Ingredient suppliers are able to produce canola protein isolates with nutritional and functional attributes, with some having a PDCAAS of almost 1.0. In addition to being a high-quality protein, canola protein isolate possesses functional properties that resemble a number of animal proteins.  Functions include emulsification, gel formation, thickening and water- and ingredient-binding," says Segall.

The most well-recognized plant protein comes from the soybean. Soy protein ingredients vary somewhat in protein quality, but all typically have a PDCAAS greater than 0.9. Soy protein ingredients come in many forms, including toasted soy flours, textured soy flour, soy concentrates and isolated soy proteins," says Cheryl Borders, manager, soy foods applications and technical service edible beans, ADM, Decatur, IL. The various products offer a wide range of functionalities, including emulsification, water retention, mouthfeel, texture and appearance." Soy ingredients are versatile, and have the ability to be manipulated into textures that mimic meats, which is why they have long been used in meat-substitute products.

ADM also has an edible bean line. "These are pre-cooked and dehydrated whole beans, pieces, grits and powders," says Borders. While applications include entrées, soups and side dishes, the bean products are also being used in extruded and sheeted snacks, baked goods, tortillas, crackers and dips, and gluten-free products. The bean powders offer more protein and fiber than typical flours and whole cereal grains. Using the bean powders, some products can be formulated to have a full or half serving of vegetables, in addition to increasing the protein and fiber content."

 Though many plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins, products designers are learning to take a systems approach to boosting protein levels of everyday foods. These products will continue to gain the attention of consumers who want to reap the benefits of a protein-rich diet.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].

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