Is drinking protein smoothies less healthy than eating foods with protein?

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By: Geoff Lesar

Copyright M Car/Flickr Creative Commons

Gym rats and juicers rejoice.

Ask a Foodie features local experts answering reader-submitted questions regarding all things food, nutrition and cooking. Each week, readers are able to vote for their favorite head-scratcher.

This week’s question is from Emily Navarro: “I’ve been making protein smoothies (with kale, protein powder, fruit, powdered peanut butter, lots of ice) for breakfast lately and have heard mixed reviews on whether or not it’s good for me. Some say you need to ‘eat’ your protein instead of drinking it. Any truth to that?”

Whether it’s whey powder or a chicken thigh, Memorial Hospital’s clinical nutrition manager Gail Weismann R.D. said the human body digests liquid and solid proteins in the same manner.

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“Proteins are digested in the stomach,” said Weismann. “Carbohydrates start being digested in the mouth with saliva. Proteins are not — they begin digestion in the stomach. No matter what form, you’re going to chew it up and drink it anyway in a liquid form, so it doesn’t make a difference.”

Once protein enters the stomach, Weismann said the enzyme pepsin begins breaking it down. The nutrients found within different protein sources depends on their classification.

“The source that the protein comes from does make a difference,” said Weismann. “For example, animal protein versus a vegetable protein, which is like a whey protein — that makes a difference.”

“An animal protein is a complete protein, so it has all the essential amino acids you need. A vegetable protein is an incomplete protein, so you have to find the amino acids in complimentary foods in order to get the complete protein.”

The acidity of a specific food, its temperature and a person’s use of antacids are all contributing factors that influence the speed of protein digestion.

Weismann suggests consuming vegetable proteins found in red beans and rice, as well as Mexican corn and beans, to substitute the natural complete proteins in meat.

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