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Is protein powder too processed to be healthy?

Catherine writes:

“Virtually everyone says to cut down on processed foods.  It’s  one of the few things everyone from different camps generally agrees on.  Yet a large number of nutrition “influencers” recommend smoothies that include protein pea powder, or “beef powder”.  How the heck are those not processed food?”

You’re right: Pea protein and beef powder (yuck) would both be considered processed foods. As would soy or almond milk, yogurt, or frozen strawberries.

Virtually everything we eat is processed to some degree. Perhaps it’s helpful more to think of processing on a spectrum.  A grape still on the vine would be at one end and a grape-flavored jelly bean on the other. Somewhere in between those extremes would be raisins, grape juice, and grape jelly.

The goal is not to completely eliminate processed foods (which wouldn’t even be possible).  It’s more realistic to think about choosing foods that are closer to the less processed end of the spectrum as often as we can.

What’s the purpose of the processing?

Rather than painting all processed foods with the same brush, it’s also worth considering what the purpose of the processing is.  Is it to concentrate the sugar, increase the intensity of the flavor, or otherwise create a product that hyper-stimulates the reward centers of the brain?  Is it to increase the profit margin of a cheap ingredient?

Or does it serve to extend shelf life, increase the nutritional value of a food, improve its digestibility, or make a nutritious food safer or more convenient to prepare?

Obviously, the processing required to turn peas or whey into protein powder serves a different purpose than the processing required to turn an ear of corn into a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

If you enjoy smoothies, you can consider whether the benefit of the additional protein justifies the use of a somewhat processed ingredient like protein powder.  Your answer might depend on how easy it is for you to meet your protein needs from other foods in your diet.

Either way, though, even though it is somewhat processed, a smoothie would be closer to the less processed end of the spectrum than a strawberry-flavored McFrosty.

My diet is super healthy. Why isn’t my Nutrition GPA higher?

I received the following email from a frustrated user of the Nutrition GPA app.  I’m posting it here, along with my response, in case other app users might find it useful as well.

“I have been somewhat frustrated with the scores I’ve been getting on the Nutrition GPA app.  I know I definitely do not eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables some days. But I think my diet is very good otherwise–just not in ways the app measures!

“For instance, I don’t eat any meat, I eat no dairy on an average day, I rarely eat eggs, I obsess over sodium, I rarely eat baked goods–and when I do, they’re homemade, low sugar, low sodium, dairy-free, etc., and the only white flour I eat is in baguettes, Portuguese rolls, or occasional pasta. Nevertheless, I’m getting Cs and  even a D!”

How does the Nutrition GPA assess your diet?

The questions in the Nutrition GPA quiz represent the foods most strongly associated with overall diet quality, risk factors, and health outcomes.  If your grade is not as high as you think it should be, perhaps aspects of your diet that you think are “not so bad” or “occasional” are having more of an impact than you realize.
Conversely, aspects of your diet that you think of as  “very good” may not have as much impact (or be as consistent) as you think.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the details you mentioned:
  • If you don’t eat any meat, then you are always getting points on Q9.  So that’s certainly not responsible for your low grade!
  • Avoiding diary and eggs is not associated with improved diet quality or reduced health risks.  So they don’t impact your grade one way or the other.
  • If you have high blood pressure and are sensitive to the effects of sodium, then that might be an important thing for you to watch. But for the majority of the population, avoiding sodium does not improve their health or their risks. So it’s not monitored in the Nutrition GPA.
  • Baked goods that contain white flour will impact your grade–even when they are homemade, low sugar, low sodium, and dairy-free! If you’re only eating them occasionally, it shouldn’t affect your GPA too much.  But research shows that replacing white flour with whole grain flour (or avoiding it altogether) improves health and nutrition.  And that’s why you get a higher grade on days when you don’t eat things made with white flour.

There are also a few things that you DIDN’T mention. But if you are frequently having more than one alcoholic drink, more than 25 grams of added sugar, eating fried foods and/or you rarely eat fish, legumes, and nuts, this will drag down your Nutrition GPA.

All of which is to say that the whole point of the Nutrition GPA is to shine a light on those areas of our diet that could stand improving. And sometimes it reveals things that we may have over or under-estimated.  In which case, it’s working exactly as designed–and presents a great opportunity to improve your nutrition!

 

Are wild blueberries pesticide free?

Q. I buy wild blueberries because I assume they are not treated with pesticides. Am I correct about this?

A. Not necessarily. It’s possible that growers may cultivate “wild” blueberries for the commercial market and they may apply pesticides to reduce weeds or insects. (Here, for example, is some information from the Maine Extension for farmers who want to improve the yield of their wild blueberry crops.

For that matter, wild blueberries growing next to a farm could potentially be exposed to pesticides used on other crops.

Wild blueberries that are certified organic should be free of all but organic-approved pesticides. But either way, I don’t think that pesticides on blueberries poses a concern for your health.
According to the pesticide residue calculator at Safe Fruits and Veggies, you could consume over 13,000 servings of blueberries in a day without being exposed to a harmful amount of pesticide reside, even if the blueberries had the highest level of pesticides residue ever measured by the USDA.

How to make Socca

Socca is a flatbread made from chickpea flour and is one of our favorite weekday suppers.  Grain and gluten free and rich in protein and fiber. You can top it however you like or just eat it plain.  Here’s a quick video tutorial.  (Instructions below.)

 

Instructions

Combine 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon each salt and fresh ground pepper.  Whisk until blended and let sit for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, slice 1-2 onions, toss with olive oil and and place in a cast iron or ovenproof skillet. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Pour the batter over the onions, turn up the oven to 500 degrees and return the pan to the oven. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until it’s starting to brown at the edges.

Slide the socca onto a cutting board and gently flip it over. At that point, you can cut into pieces and serve as an appetizer or with soup or salad. Or, slide it back onto the pan, top with veggies and cheese and run it under the broiler to melt the cheese.

Are Superfoods For Real?

Kale, goji berries, salmon, quinoa, broccoli sprouts...all have been heralded as superfoods. But what makes these foods so special? Guest contributor Dena Gershkovich weighs in.

The term superfood likely first appeared as part of a food marketing strategy, according to an article by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source. Around the time of World War I, there was a major import of bananas, and the United Fruit Company wanted to encourage people to eat the fruit. This marketing led to a buzz around the term superfood.

The superfood buzz was further perpetuated after physicians used the term in medical journals, when discussing how a banana diet can be used to treat conditions such as celiac disease (this was before a gluten-free diet was found to be the best way to treat celiac disease). Soon, tons of moms were preparing banana-based foods for their kids, even if they did not have celiac, due to all of the hype. (As an aside – I really can’t imagine only eating bananas! Those poor kids!).

Just so we’re clear here, the term superfood was not coined by a nutrition professional or food scientist. It was popularized by smart marketing strategy.

WHAT ARE SUPERFOODS?

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Protein Content of Common Foods

This table shows the amount of protein per serving of several common foods.

Note that the standard serving size for meat is 3 ounces, which is considerably smaller than the portions you may be used to seeing.   A 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

Click here to see a table of protein density (how much protein various foods provide per calorie).

FoodServing SizeProtein (g)
Chicken breast3 ounces25
Pork tenderloin3 ounces22
Hamburger, lean (broiled)3 ounces22
Ground turkey (broiled)3 ounces22
Salmon3 ounces19
Shrimp3 ounces19
TunaSmall can17
Cottage cheese, lowfat1/2 cup14
Plain yogurt1 cup12
Greek yogurt1/2 cup11
Tofu, firm1/2 cup10
Lentils, cooked1/2 cup9
Peanut butter2 tablespoons8
Black beans1/2 cup8
Chickpeas1/2 cup8
Spaghetti, cooked1 cup8
Edamame (soybeans)1 cup8
Oat bran, uncooked1/3 cup7
Egg1 large6
Hummus1/2 cup6
Egg white1 large4
Quinoa, cooked1/2 cup4
Brown rice, cooked1/2 cup3
Whole wheat bread1 slice3

See also:
Quick Guide to Complementary Protein Sources

New Ways to Use Whey Protein Powder

 

How to make homemade corn tortillas

Photo by Amber Engle

Making your own corn tortillas is fun and easy. With just three basic ingredients, a tortilla press, and a hot skillet, you’ll be on your way to having gluten-free, delicious, soft corn tortillas in less than an hour. You can use them for enchiladas, tostadas, tacos, nachos, and more.

How to make tortillas

Here comes the fun part. Although it is easy to do, you will need to be patient if this is your first time making homemade tortillas. There are times where the dough will feel dry or soggy. All you have to do is add more water or add more masa. As you make more homemade corn tortillas, you will quickly learn and enjoy the tortilla-making process.

Ingredients

2 cups of Masa Harina (not regular cornmeal or corn flour)

½ teaspoon of salt

1 ½ to 2 cups of warm water

Important: Masa harina is different from regular corn flour or cornmeal. In order to create masa harina, the corn goes through a process called nixtamalization, which involves soaking it in an alkaline solution (usually lime). This changes the structure of the grain which enables it to form a dough. It also adds calcium and makes the nutrients in the grain easier to absorb. Continue reading “How to make homemade corn tortillas” >

Is collagen protein safe and effective?

Naomi writes:

When opening a new container of Vital Proteins Collagen I saw a warning about possible lead content. Should I change my choice of collagen or stop using it altogether?  I am 65 and thought it would be beneficial for my hair and skin.

It’s hard to know for sure without a chemical analysis, but this warning may just be a corporate cover-your-hiney thing. I don’t think you necessarily need to throw away your new (and probably fairly pricey) container of collagen protein. But I’m also skeptical about its benefits for joints, skin, hair, or nails. Continue reading “Is collagen protein safe and effective?” >