Food Science in the News: Taco Bell debuts new Power Protein Menu July 25th 2013

Ringing Endorsement for Protein: Taco Bell’s new Power Protein Menu (coming to select locations July 25th) 
New items on the Power Protein Menu include a Power Protein Burrito and the Power Protein Bowl. Each item includes the word “power” to portray the connection between protein and performance. But as a wise man once explained to his grandson, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Let’s look at the pros and cons of these Power Protein meals.
Pro: Getting enough protein every day is important for overall health

Amino acids are the most basic unit of proteins, just as letters are building blocks to words. When amino acids are linked together in certain ways, they build proteins that perform several important functions in the body. Blood clotting, fluid balance, hormone production, cell repair – all rely on a steady source of amino acids so the body can build the protein that will get the job done.
Pro: Getting the rightkinds of protein is essential to life
The body makes about half of the amino acids it needs, but some of them (the “essential amino acids”) have to come from the diet. If one amino acid is missing, it’s like building a car without a steering wheel. You need all the pieces or it’s a no-go.
The Power Protein burrito and bowl each include double-servings of chicken or beef, animal sources of protein which are considered “high-quality” or “complete” proteins because they contain sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. The Power Protein bowl also comes with slow-cooked black beans, which are a great source of the amino acid methionine. Fingers-crossed there’ll be a Power Protein Black Beans and Rice bowl – complementary proteins that would give vegetarians all the essential amino acids.
Con: You don’t need as much protein as you think
It’s true that protein deficiency can lead to weakened immune system, edema and diseases like Kwashiorkor, but an excess of protein can put stress on the body too. The typical North American diet has no shortage of protein. The protein RDA for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which means a man weighing 154 pounds only needs about 56 grams of protein. For most athletes, 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is enough for muscle maintenance and growth, and few studies prove that a higher ratio than this increases muscle growth. Some fitness professionals recommend up to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram body weight but at that ratio amino acids get used for fuel.

Con: Yes, you can have too much protein
If your body could talk, it would tell you that using protein instead of carbs for fuel is annoying. It’s almost as annoying as getting rid of a Christmas tree or your X’s belongings. You have to take it somewhere special and dispose of it properly. It’s a hassle. The liver and kidneys have to take extra steps to remove nitrogen and process all the other accessories like sulfur. The body can do these steps, sure, but here’s the problem: the body stores fat, the body stores carbs, the body does not store proteins. That means when there’s an excess of protein in the body, the situation has to be dealt with immediately– not unlike a crying baby, a barking dog or an overflowing toilet. See? Annoying.
Pro: A meal high in protein is satiating; it satisfies hunger and keeps one feeling fuller, longer
As a result of the way proteins are metabolized, they satisfy hunger more than carbs alone. The body runs on carbs as the #1 source of fuel so it’s incredibly efficient at metabolizing them (exception: dietary fiber, which isn’t absorbed). Nutrition experts recommend adding a bit of protein to every meal because it’s more metabolically satisfying than carbs or fats.
Con: Dinner isn’t supposed to be the biggest meal of the day
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. That saying by American author and nutritionist Adelle Davishas been scientifically proven time and again. Breakfast is important. Those who skip it usually gain more weight over a year than those who do have breakfast. Metabolism is more efficient in the morning than at night, so a big breakfast kick starts the day while a big dinner has a higher likelihood of being stored. A hearty meal late at night with tacos, multiple Power Protein Burritos, nachos and a giant soda won’t increase power as much as it’ll increase the waistline.

Pro: Power Protein Menu items have more than 20 grams of protein but fewer than 450 calories
Sure, Taco Bell may be capitalizing on the high-protein craze (or as some dietitians call it, “Atkins, revisited”), but these menu items actually have potential to help people eat better, healthier meals (as long as people don’t go crazy and order multiple items from this menu).
Protein – good.
Quality protein – good.
Less than 450 calories per meal with over 20 grams of satisfying protein – GOOD!

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