The Search for Protein: Product Review

18 Jul

Protein powder and I have long been at odds. In my many kitchen experiments, it’s been the one ingredient that I only add because it’s good for me. For the past week or so, I’d been using Wegman’s soy protein powder in vanilla flavor and a lot of my baked goods had been coming out dense. It was very frustrating. I consulted my friends on to learn what their favorite powders were and then headed to my local nutrition store to see what was in stock.

And there it was, shining like a beacon before me in a huge black canister that said NITRO CORE 24 on the side. It was Optimum Nutrition’s new line of powders and I’d heard rumors of it’s tastiness. Skeptically, I looked at the giant tub. The flavor was vanilla ice cream. It also comes in strawberry milkshake, ultimate chocolate, and extreme cookies and cream. What is extreme or ultimate about those flavors, I don’t know. I will find out in the future.

What makes O.N.’s new product so interesting is that each 48g scoop contains 24 grams of a protein blend. Most powders on the market are either whey (isolated from cheese) or soy (isolated from soybeans). Not so with this particular product. The protein blend contains 3 different types of proteins which are balanced by the rate at which they are digested in the body. For instance, whey protein isolate is quickly digested, egg albumins and milk proteins are digested slightly slower, and at the end of the chain are casein proteins (accounting for 80% of the proteins in cheese and milk) which take a long time for the body to digest. This all translates into feeling fuller longer and a chance for better protein absorption (in the case of those who have malabsorption issues).

But really, none of this matters unless you can actually get the stuff down. Most of the complaints I have with protein powders are chalky or gritty texture, lack of flavor, and a particularly strong smell. Since GNC has a “return it if you hate it” policy, I ponied up the $34 for a canister containing about 30 scoops and brought it back to the lab (read: kitchen) for some tests.

Test #1: Apple Cinnamon Protein Cookie (derived from this delicious recipe)

My modifications included using only 1 heaping scoop (48g is a much larger scoop than many other brands) of protein powder, nixing the chocolate and nuts, adding chopped dried apples as the fruit, and replacing 1 tablespoon of the sugar free caramel syrup with 1 tablespoon of my homemade spiced apple preserves.

I knew that all I had to do was open that canister and I’d know whether I had something acceptable or not. Warily, I opened it and peeled back the quality seal. Oddly enough, I smelled…well, melted vanilla ice cream. Yes, there was a slight hint of that unflavored gelatin smell but all in all it was a pretty good smell. I added a heaping scoop to my batter, portioned out the cookies and waited by the oven. They came out smelling wonderfully, but I’d have to wait until the next day for a taste test.

Test #2: Cinnamon Cheesecake Ice Cream

I needed a test to determine whether this powder could deliver a smooth, creamy texture. Once again, borrowing my base recipe from my friend Shelly’s blog here, I came up with the following:

1 1/4 scoops of Nitro Core Vanilla Ice Cream Protein Powder
1 tbsp. SF cheesecake pudding mix
A few shakes of cinnamon
1 cup 2% milk (do NOT use skim)
1 tbsp SF vanilla syrup (Torani is the brand I had on hand)

I tossed it in the ice cream maker and waited 30 minutes. What came out was still in the soft serve phase and would need a good 2-3 hours in the fridge to harden up, but it was worth tasting. And then there was ice cream. It was creamy, smooth, and decadent. I made a mental note that the SF pudding mix had made the batch slightly too sweet for me but that the protein had certainly done it’s job.

Just The Facts, M’am: Assuming that a batch makes 3 servings, each serving has 107 calories, 4 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and a whopping 11 grams of protein. If you’re a post-op in the “pureed foods” stage looking for more of a meal, consider dividing it into only 2 servings with each one having 160 calories, 6 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, and 16 grams of protein. The above recipe is pretty basic. Add fruit, nut butters, or different flavor syrups for some variety.

The next day at 3:00pm, I retrieved my recently baked protein cookie from my bag and took it down to tea. They always serve cookies at tea, so this one would need to be a really good cookie to distract me from those temptations. I took a bite and finally found the texture that my recent batches had lacked so horribly. It was chewy, soft, and had a taste similar to mulled apples. The caramel syrup and vanilla protein blended wonderfully to make a lovely background for this morsel of autumn.

Just The Facts, M’am: A batch yielding 9 cookies has 97 calories, 7 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of protein per cookie. A perfectly fine snack and while it clocks in under 100 calories, this is one that will stick with you.

So it seems that protein powder and I can finally be friends. With its mild, slightly sweetened vanilla flavor and creamy texture, Nitro Core 24 delivers quality protein that I actually want to eat. Many thanks to the folks at Obesity Help for their help in finding it!

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