L2 Fitness Blog

“High protein” foods that aren’t high in protein

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Protein has continued gaining popularity in the diet & nutrition space over the past several years, and for good reason. Not only does protein repair damaged tissue from a workout, playing a sport or other strenuous activities, but the satiety factor (read: it keeps you fuller longer) makes prioritizing protein a great start for anyone looking to lose weight, improve body composition and/or maximize performance.

However, with the increased awareness on the importance of protein, food companies have begun using protein branding as a marketing tool. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a negative thing since it could potentially help encourage more people to hop on the high protein bandwagon. The underlying problem, though, is that many foods marketed as being “A great source of protein!” hardly have any protein in them at all.

What many food companies have done is taken an original product, laced it with small traces of whey protein, and slapped a label on the front indicating that the negligible ~5 grams of protein added make the product life-altering and will turn you into the epitome of health and fitness.

So, with all of the false advertising in the food industry these days, how does one distinguish the true protein-rich foods from the phonies? The protein-richness of a given food item is relative to the number of total calories and, furthermore, relative to the amount of carbohydrates & fats. Pull out the calculator app on your Smartphone, folks, because this is going to take some simple math (and because no one uses real calculators these days).

Common “High Protein” foods that aren’t high in protein

Kellogg’s Vector “High Protein” Cereal

  • Per 55g serving: 215 Calories, 5.5g protein, 2.8g fat, 44g carbohydrates
  • 5.5 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 22 Calories coming from protein
  • 22 Calories / 215 Calories = 0.102
  • = 10% of Calories coming from protein

Special K Fruit and Salted Nut Snack Bar

  • Per 35g bar: 150 Calories, 8g protein, 6g fat, 17g carbohydrates
  • 8 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 32 Calories coming from protein
  • 32 Calories / 150 Calories = 0.213
  • = 21% of Calories coming from protein

Regular Peanut Butter

  • Per 16g (1 TBSP) serving: 100 Calories, 4g protein, 8g fat, 3g carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 16 Calories coming from protein
  • 16 Calories / 100 Calories = 0.16
  • = 16% of Calories coming from protein

Nuts N’ More High Protein Peanut Butter Spread

  • Per 16g (1 TBSP) serving: 94 Calories, 7g protein, 6g fat, 3g carbohydrates
  • 7 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 28 Calories coming from protein
  • 28 Calories / 94 Calories = 0.297
  • = 30% of Calories coming from protein

Lentils

  • Per ½ cup: 110 Calories, 9g protein, 0g fat, 19g carbohydrates
  • 9 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 36 Calories coming from protein
  • 36 Calories / 110 Calories = 0.327
  • = 33% of Calories coming from protein

To compare, here are three true high protein sources:

Plain, 0% Greek yogurt

  • Per 1 cup: 120 Calories, 23g protein, 0g fat, 7g carbohydrates
  • 23 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 92 Calories coming from protein
  • 92 Calories / 120 Calories = 0.766
  • = 77% of Calories coming from protein

Chicken Breast

  • Per 3 Oz serving: 94 Calories, 19.6g protein, 1.6g fat, 0g carbohydrates
  • 19.6 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 78 Calories coming from protein
  • 78 Calories / 94 Calories = 0.829
  • = 83% of Calories coming from protein

Chocolate Whey Isolate Powder (Diesel by Perfect Sports)

  • Per 30g (1 scoop): 115 Calories, 26g protein, 0.1g fat, 2.5g carbohydrates
  • 26 grams of protein x 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • = 104 Calories coming from protein
  • 104 Calories / 115 Calories = 0.904
  • = 90% of Calories coming from protein

Now, don’t get me wrong. None of the listed foods should be considered bad or unhealthy, and every one can contribute to your overall daily protein intake (which, in the end, is what matters most in the context of dietary protein). However, consuming foods that contain a higher percentage of its’ Calories from protein ultimately means that, in a Calorie-controlled and protein-controlled diet, there’s more room for other foods that can stand alone as your carbohydrate and fat sources. This ultimately means a higher food volume and likely better satiety.

To wrap it up, I will list the amount of each food described above that you’d need to eat in order to consume a bolus dose of protein. A bolus dose of protein varies depending on the person, but for the sake of simplicity here we will say 25 grams of protein.

Calories for 25 grams of protein

  • Kellogg’s Vector Cereal: 4.5 servings, 248 grams, 968 Calories
  • Special K Fruit & Salty Nut Snack Bar: 3.125 bars, 469 Calories
  • Regular Peanut Butter: 6.25 TBSP, 100 grams, 625 Calories
  • Nuts N’ More High Protein Peanut Butter Spread: 3.6 TBSP, 58 grams, 338 Calories
  • Lentils: 2.8 servings, 308 Calories
  • Plain, 0% Greek Yogurt: 1.09 cups, 131 Calories
  • Chicken Breast: 3.8 Oz, 120 Calories
  • Chocolate Whey Isolate Powder: 28g, 110 Calories
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