“Eat real food.”
“Don’t eat processed foods.”
“Whey protein isn’t a real food.”

You’ve heard these statements before. If you haven’t, you have heard some permutation of them as it relates to an optimal diet. The impetus for this came from a Facebook status that read:

Open question attempting to understand dissonance here- IF the statement “Protein supplements are not real food” is made, what is the reason for stating they are not? In other words, what makes whey powder a “supplement” and not a “food”?

Now, the original question was about whey protein, but it opens up to a larger area of questions we can ask ourselves. With that in mind, it’s important to that the clearer we define something the more useful the definition. That said, let’s make a comparison. In doing so you will come away with the answer to the following: what is a processed food? What is a supplement? And what is a “real” food? And after that, when are they necessary?

 

The Big Three

This time, I’m not referring to the lifts. I’m referring to the big three of nutrition. That is, the main macronutrients you keep track of; I mean, of course, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Within those macronutrients, we can find isolated forms of those. In fact, we encounter them every day:

  • Table sugar
  • Coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • Whey protein isolate

Whey protein starts to look a bit different when viewed with this lens. In fact, people on almost every side of the diet spectrum (sans vegans since whey is an animal byproduct) love both fatty oils and whey protein isolate. Yet, sugar always gets a bad reputation, like the mean kid who kicked sand in your face on the playground in grade school.

Whether you demonize or praise any of them is irrelevant as it relates to the facts about them and their potential efficacy. So let’s take a look at them.

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