By Andy Hanacek, editor-in-chief

Day One of the IFT Show/Process Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago offered some truly groundbreaking seminars in its Scientific Program — several of which were related to the meat and poultry industries.

On Day One of the show — Sunday, July 18 — one such seminar, titled, “Breakfast is more than timing: Research shows the importance of high-quality protein in the breakfast meal,” was quite intriguing to me, given my meat and poultry leanings. This seminar featured three speakers:

  • Douglas Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., associate professor, Health Professions and Internal Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch
  • Marie Spano, International Society of Sports Nutrition
  • Chef Craig “Skip” Julius, director of innovation, Pierre Foods

Paddon-Jones kicked off the hour-and-a-half presentation with a very detailed, but very comprehensible, breakdown of how the human body builds muscle in response to protein consumption, specifically lean beef. He and his colleagues found that consumption of 4 oz. of lean beef (containing 30 g of protein and 10 g of essential amino acids) in one meal increased the human body’s ability to build muscle by 50 percent over fasting.

A clear sign that moderation and balance across multiple meals is important, they found that tripling the serving of beef in one meal did not increase the body’s ability to build muscle by that same factor.

Paddon-Jones implored attendees to promote moderation and balance of protein consumption across the dayparts to build muscle more efficiently.

What the team of researchers found related to age, however, was another breakthrough. Paddon-Jones and his team found that reducing the amount of beef consumed to only 2 oz. caused a serious dropoff in the ability of the elderly to build muscle than that of their younger counterparts involved in the study.

Results of studies done on infirm elderly (previous studies had been done on healthy individuals) produced even more shocking results, Paddon-Jones said. Inactivity (bed rest) coupled with a lack of proper protein consumption caused serious muscle loss — protein consumption, Paddon-Jones said, combats inactivity-induced muscle loss.

“The sad fact is, bed rest and inactivity is the preferred best treatment model for illness in our hospitals today,” he added. “We’re treating patients for their illnesses but not for muscle loss and recovery.”

Paddon-Jones suggests that health-care nutritionists promote an aggressive approach to support sick patients’ ability to minimize the loss of muscle and strength by avoiding inactivity and ensuring consumption of a healthy amount of high-quality protein.

Spano backed up Paddon-Jones’ claims with her own evidence of the healthfulness of high-quality proteins, showing that a high-protein diet can, in fact, reduce abdominal body fat over the course of six to 12 months. She added that processors and nutritionists need to better educate the public on the importance of high-quality proteins and the further need to balance the consumption of those proteins over the course of their daily meals for optimum efficiency.

Spano added that a high-protein breakfast has been proven to increase satiety and reduce caloric intake in individuals over the 24 hours after the breakfast was consumed.

Julius, who wrapped up the session with some real-world examples of products and companies taking advantage of this strategy, started out by saying, “Touting protein content is hot, and there is greater consumer recognition of protein’s health contributions.”

Julius cited evidence that protein ingredients are expected to grow to $18 billion — a 7.6 percent increase — and protein as a whole is becoming a functional superstar.

However, protein remains the highest cost item in school foodservice today. One of the trends in that realm is a longtime quick-serve staple (and recent retail blitz) — the breakfast sandwich. Schools are trending toward offering students these on-the-go sandwiches, which always feature eggs and often feature a meat. Julius even cited a recent development Pierre Foods has worked on with a customer serving several test sites today: a mobile breakfast sandwich cart at the school.

In non-breakfast settings, protein on a bun still is the king, and protein as the center-of-the-plate item is the dominant force. Julius says protein will always be of utmost importance to the human race, as it is an instinctual desire.

“Because protein was a precious macronutrient in the human race’s evolutionary past, our brains are wired to crave protein,” Julius explained. “Its presence is pleasurable to our brains.”

Furthermore, Julius said, certain amino acids are craved by our bodies — eggs and milk being two examples — and proteins are often associated with positive memories for most human beings, one more support for the crave factor.

For more updates on all the seminars and events at IFT 2010, go to IFT Live 2010.