Beyond a trend in 2015 says Volac
Head of Nutrition for Volac, Suzane Leser provides insight into how the science and events in nutrition that shaped the last half-decade will establish a long-term growth for protein-based businesses as they break into mainstream.
Infant and sports nutrition continue as the biggest markets for protein, led mainly by whey proteins, targeting a fairly young group of consumers. But a range of new protein sources is now reaching wider into adult mainstream and, according to Volac, protein is here to stay.
Leser comments: “The last five years have been incredible for protein. We have witnessed the most impactful science and expert consensus of perhaps the last 20 years. A quick search on PubMed.com for protein nutrition and health shows us that research has nearly doubled since 2010, compared to the late 2000s. What this science is revealing to us is that the importance of protein for optimal health is present at every life stage. Regardless if we should be eating protein for growth or to counter the effects of ageing, everybody could enjoy the benefits by placing protein at the centre of their diets, right from childhood into old age.”
Leser adds: “It is the well-grounded benefits of protein from cradle-to-grave that will ensure long-term life of today’s protein boom as it moves into the mainstream, just as we have seen the main niche markets of infant and sports nutrition continue to grow from strength to strength. Protein is definitely here to stay.”
Despite protein’s origins in the sports nutrition sector, it was only five years ago in 2010 that the International Olympic Committee advised athletes for the first time to eat high quality protein foods and snacks throughout the day and after each training session, to aid in long-term gains in muscle and bone mass. Later in 2012, protein warranted four approved generic health claims in Europe, including its main benefit to sports people – muscle maintenance and growth – as well as maintenance of normal bones and growth and development of bones in children and adolescents.
Leser comments: “The importance of having established health claims is that it gives confidence to manufacturers to enhance the nutritional profile of our everyday favourite foods with protein, and this is what connects new consumers such as women, children and teens with the benefits of protein.”
The rapid spread of ‘high protein’ claims is increasing the female endorsement of protein, as women are starting to understand more about the benefits of protein for the entire family, at the same time they recognise that there is no magic pill to weight management, but a balanced diet.
Leser comments: “Take the outcomes from the Diogenes pan-European weight loss study, for example, where a high protein, low GI diet has been consistently shown to be better for maintaining weight loss. We predict we are in the direction of a dietary shift towards a higher proportion of protein in the diet, which would be more powerful than an approved health claim in weight management.”
Approved health claims on meal replacements are also driving the growth of protein for weight loss and control. One of the conditions of use to make these claims is to provide good quality protein at not less than 25% of the energy of the product, in other words, a ‘high protein’ nutrition claim.
Leser continues: “Another side to the adult mainstream market is that as health-conscious consumers move away from quick-fix energy drinks, protein becomes the fit alternative for sustained energy and stamina, with no negative associations.”
In 2012, EFSA issued a scientific opinion on protein Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) where it could not establish an upper intake level for protein. EFSA also suggested that for older adults the protein to energy ratio is higher than for the young. In 2013, the PROT-AGE Study Group agreed that older adults should up their daily protein intake from 0.8 to 1.2 g protein/kg for faster recovery from illness and injury and to help maintain levels of physical activity into later life.
It is this ageing market that has been driving protein from high performance sports nutrition into to the new ‘active nutrition’ category, according to Leser, who adds: “For the growing number of middle-aged, moderately active adults, protein remains the recovery nutrient that maintains aerobic fitness, flexibility and a strong physique as they age. Combining an optimal protein intake throughout adulthood with exercise becomes important to minimise the decline in muscle mass as, for example, an average 60 year old man may have some 5 kg less muscle than the average 20 year old man.”
Studies published only very recently, from 2009 to 2014, have been the scientific milestones that helped to understand how to go about consuming protein for optimal benefits. These studies revealed that spreading daily protein intake evenly across all meals can improve the making of new muscle proteins by as much as 25%, compared with getting the majority at the evening meal. While the optimal amount of protein intake has been shown to be around 20-30g at a time, for ageing adults as young as 50, intakes at 35-40g showed the best results after exercise, debunking previous thinking that as people get older they would require less protein.
While most of the research on protein intakes for healthy ageing revolves around sarcopenia in the elderly, the most fascinating new area, according to Ms Leser, is metabolic health.
“Protein has the potential to play a greater role in public health that is currently not fully exploited. This comes out as research in different health areas are coming together to show that evenly distributing protein intake across the day might also improve a number of other health indicators, such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, as well as immunity and bad cholesterol levels. Protein holds huge potential to help tackle major health problems, such as overweight, hypertension and diabetes, the conditions that today affect people early in their adult lives and could compromise quality of life later in life.”
In 2013 the FAO addressed the importance of protein quality for sustainable and healthy diets. The FAO is now calling for more research to define the optimal amino acid needs for health according to age, gender and exercise, also recommending that an accurate measure of protein quality is included in protein nutrition claims.
However, the growing global protein demand raises a few challenges, according to Leser: “The high protein lifestyle is rising steadily, fuelled by better wealth and population growth. Also, science is advancing to change dietary advice from minimum needs to prevent deficiency to what is optimal for health. With this, high quality proteins can become increasingly scarce if we don’t address the question of how can the industry reach a sustainable supply of protein that meets growing health needs, collectively.”