Protein: necessity or deception?

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer
Founder and Head Coach
Protein peanut butter, cereal, spaghetti, pancake mix, oatmeal, or even protein-jam. Protein is hip and happening! Protein is associated with great health and considered a necessity if you want to get strong and fit. Or is it a temptation or deception? Let's find out!


Protein is associated with health and being strong and fit. Without protein we are unhealthy, weak and un-fit. Protein is considered a necessity and the more the better. Right? Not really.

Protein is one of the key elements in a diet and an important building block for the body. Adults need an average daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, assuming a person has a deskjob and is not very physically active. The Dutch Health Council recommends a daily intake of 10 to 20 percent of protein. The majority of Dutch people eat enough protein with their regular diet, excluded special protein products.

For athletes, vegetarians/ vegans (Animal or plant based protein?), pregnant women and elderly a slightly higher intake is recommended (Healthy Ageing and protein intake). More than 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight does have more benefits. The surplus is largely stored as body fat.

In short: More protein does not equal better, healthier, stronger and fitter. Especially if the protein products also contain additional sugars, fat, and artificial additives, and packaging does not necessarily correspond to the actual content as is often the case (How healthy is your protein snack?).

Despite all these facts, temptation wins and it feels like extra protein is a necessity.


Which bar would you choose? The left one with 20 grams of protein on the wrapper, or the right one with 20 grams of carbs on the wrapper?

Spoiler: It’s exactly the same bar. This bar contains 20 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs. The right one will likely be sold less than the left. Simply because food marketing convinces us protein is the holy grail and carbs make us fat.

Neuro- marketing

This is an example of neuromarketing: Smart marketing that seduces our brain to buy a product. The product is framed in a highly attractive way so it fits our frame of protein is a necessity. Regardless of whether this matches the facts, of whether this is the best product, of whether it is healthy, of whether we really need it, and of whether the product makes sense (protein jam …?).

It takes 0.3 seconds for the subconscious part of the brain to decided to buy the product. It takes 7 seconds for the conscious part of the brain to make a rational  informed decision. Subconscious often wins from conscious.

Other processes that play a role in decision making are:

  • People are like herd animals who like to go in fads and do not want to deviate from the rest (Are you on a Fad diet?)
  • People are being overwhelmed by information about nutrition
  • Evidence based facts are often presented in an incomprehensible language by a not so appealing scientistds, compared to the appealing marketing of trendy products by influencers.


In the example above, the food label of the bar gives information that this bar contains 20 grams of protein as well as 20 grams of carbs. Although the bar is presented as high protein, the food label seems correct and informs the buyer sufficiently enough.

But what about the second example:

This seems to be a nice choice. The name is Trust, it claims to be guilt free, and full of protein and only 2.3 grams of sugar.

But when you read the food label more closely, this bar contains 18 grams of carbs of which 2.3 grams of sugar and 14 grams of polyols.

This is a case of deception: The food producer should not assume people know what polyols are. Polyols are sugars. Although this type of sugar contains slightly less calories than regular sugar (2.4 cals per gram versus 4 cal per gram),  it’s still sugar. The use of other terms for sugar is deceiving, such as dextrose, sucrose and terms ending in -ose … (How healthy is your protein snack?)

Need to know tip

We are being seduced by food marketeers everywhere and anywhere. If you prefer making healthy and conscious food choices , then take 10 seconds before you buy a product and ask yourself the following questions:    

-         Do I really need this now?

-         What does this product actually contain?

-         Do I understand the food label?

-         Do I still think need this right now?

It only takes 10 seconds to take a step towards healthy habits!

Create your own health!©