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Call it 'protein', not 'meat'

General Mills launched a new cereal: Cheerios Protein. The big selling point: It contains eleven grams of protein when paired with milk.

So what is it about protein that drives consumers to add so much of it into their diets -- and spend so much on it in grocery stores?

"Protein helps you feel full throughout the day and keeps you energized," says Venessa Wong, associate editor at Bloomberg Businessweek"It actually works out in favor of food manufacturers," says Wong. "Consumers are so interested in protein and yet have no idea how much they’re supposed to consume a day."

No surprise there because in business, it’s all about the branding. For instance, meat companies, like Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson, prefer to think of themselves as a "protein company" as opposed to a "meat company."

"Last year, a data company found that conversations that mentioned meats were highly negative on social media," says Wong. "Where as those that mentioned proteins were associated with positive things like good, delicious and healthy."

So will the protein popularity grow? Or is this just another fleeting food trend?

"It’s a hot trend," says Wong. "Several companies are making bets on the marketing power of protein to consumers."

Listen to our full interview with Venessa Wong in the audio player above.


5 examples when the word "protein" does not mean "meat"

1. Brussels Sprouts

Nobody ever wanted to eat them when they were kids, but these little miniature cabbages pack a solid three grams of protein in each 1-cup serving.

2. Quinoa

It's not technically a grain (it's a seed), but it has as much protein as some other whole grains and then some. One cup of quinoa contains a whopping 24 grams of protein--nearly five times that of a cup of brown rice.

3. Pumpkin seeds

Might want to save the seeds from your next Halloween pumpkin. Also called "pepitas" in Spanish, pumpkin seeds boast a hefty 12 grams of protein per cup. There's a caveat, however, as nuts and seeds tend to pack a lot of calories and fat along with them.

4. Ice cream

Again, the usual moderation caveats apply, but the National Dairy Council reports ice cream is not only a source of protein, but also calcium, riboflavin, and other vitamins and minerals. But don't use this to justify your consumption of it--while a half-cup of chocolate ice cream contains 2.5 grams of protein, it also comes with 7 grams of fat.

5. Silk pupae

Called beondegi in Korean--which translates to "pupa" or "chrysalis"--steamed and lightly seasoned silkworm pupae are often sold by street vendors in Korea. Canned silk pupae can contain up to nine grams of protein.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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