USA, Laurel, Miss. Research shows that a surprising number of American shoppers have an incorrect understanding of the protein content of foods. Further, many are looking solely at grams of protein on packaged products, rather than exploring the ingredient statement and percent Daily Value (DV), which provides a better picture of the quality of protein.
Protein is one of the three major macronutrients needed to sustain life. It plays a role in every cell of the body and is vital to performing essential functions, such as building and repairing cells and keeping the immune system strong. Therefore, it’s vital that a person’s diet include the proper amount – and type – of this nutrient throughout the day.
Many consumers do not understand that most protein from plants is incomplete, meaning it doesn’t provide all of the essential amino acids the body needs, but can’t make. Further, there’s research suggesting protein from plant sources isn’t as readily absorbed as proteins from animal-based foods.
Proteins vary in their individual amino acid composition and their level of amino acid bioactivity, among other attributes. Products that carry a “good source of protein” claim must provide more than 10% DV of protein per serving, while those making an “excellent source of protein” claim must contain more than 20% DV. That does not simply translate to 5 g and 10 g of protein per serving. It’s 5 g and 10 g of “high-quality” protein.
That’s because the percent Daily Value for protein is determined using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which is an adjustment for the quality of the protein. It is based on the types and amounts of amino acids in the food as well as the overall digestibility. The PDCAAS values range from 0.0 to 1.0, where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which most animal proteins as well soy protein all possess. Most plant protein sources have much lower values. Thus, a beef jerky snack containing 10 g of protein may make an “excellent source of protein” claim. A vegan alternative form with 10 g of protein from wheat and peas most likely only qualifies for a “good source of protein” claim. When making or implying any protein content claim, the US Food and Drug Administration requires the inclusion of the percent DV to support the protein claim.
Consumer research by Nielsen found that many people didn’t make the grade when quizzed on their protein knowledge. When asked about poultry, 58% of consumers who responded to the survey failed to identify chicken as a high-protein source. Of the shoppers polled, 78% overestimated the protein content of peanut butter, which only contains 8 g of protein per two tablespoons. To compare, a good 113 g chicken breast contains 25 g of protein.
Chicken is easily digestible and often the most budget-friendly of lean protein options. Additionally, protein from chicken contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a “complete protein.” Studies indicate that eating poultry, as part of a vegetable-rich diet, can reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.