Shreyas Kulkarni

Horlicks Protein Plus gets Akshay Kumar to tell us how much protein we need every day

The Indian diet lacks protein, and now a brand spells out exact daily intake measurements.

“… proteins are not only lacking in the Indian diet, but often overlooked. India’s protein consumption is much lower than the 48 gm/day that is recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),” said the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a leading independent think tank in an October 2020 report on the country’s protein deficiency.

This statement is not all that surprising because the country loves its carbs to an extent that proteins receive step-sibling treatment. As an example, and playing on stereotypes, here are some of the country’s most popular dishes: rajma chawal in the north, rice sambar in the south, khichdi in the west, and maach-bhaat in the east. The common element in all these four dishes is rice, i.e., carbohydrates.

Hindustan Unilever’s nutrition drink Horlicks Protein Plus seems to recognise this issue. It has roped in Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar to spell out the formula to meet protein’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) every day.

In the ad, there are two interesting scenes. First, where Kumar jokes that the secret to his fitness is tandoori chicken. He then remarks that eating non-veg (food) every day is hard; a nod to the notion that only meat can give you the required amount of protein.

The second is when the actor states that you need to consume the same amount of protein in grams every day as your weight. So, if you weigh 80 kg, you need to consume 80 gm of protein every day.

Sudhir Sitapati, executive director, foods and refreshment, HUL, spoke about the under-consumption of protein. “Indian diet sometimes may be insufficient to meet the RDAs of protein. What we need to create awareness for is, that for every 1 kg of healthy body weight, one requires 1 gm of protein every day.”

“Protein deficiency in adults can lead to impaired immune system, hair fall, accumulation of fat, and so on. There is a need for us to move to the next frontier in the battle for an optimal protein intake and the relaunch of Horlicks Protein Plus, our adult nutrition brand, is a step towards the initiative.”

“The relaunch campaign’s central theme reinforces how Horlicks Protein Plus, along with milk, can help to meet the protein requirements for adults, thus providing nearly 30 per cent of an individual’s daily protein need. Horlicks Protein Plus contains a blend of three good quality proteins (whey, soy and casein), and is scientifically formulated high protein drink that delivers 34 gm protein in 100 gm of the product,” Sitapati adds.

We (afaqs!) were quite surprised to see Kumar dole out this formula. The reason: one doesn’t usually see a food or drinks brand dole out an exact intake formula. And even if it did, people may end up confused or mess it up.

But because we’ve all become quite aware of our health and fitness in the past year, Horlicks must have thought the time was ripe, isn’t it? Also, to give out daily protein intake methods... isn't it a risk because someone can then easily slam the brand if things don't work for him or her?

We asked Sharda Agarwal, co-founder, Sepalika, a healthcare advisory, to comment on this.

Edited excerpts:

Sharda Agarwal
Sharda Agarwal

Agarwal said that it makes sense to build awareness about the critical role that protein plays in our body, especially in the times of a pandemic (because antibodies are made of protein). But from a technical health perspective, she disagreed with this ad. Agarwal gave the following three reasons for it.

· One gram of protein per kg of body weight can’t be prescriptive. Remember that in India, people tend to take messages literally, especially when it comes from a celebrity and a well-known brand… how much protein each of us needs should be based on bio-individuality, i.e., our age, lifestyle (how active you are), genetics, pre-existing health conditions, etc. As a nutritional therapy practitioner, I vary that amount for my clients, often exceeding the 1 gm number the ad speaks about, and many times going well below that level. No one size fits all.

· A significant number of Indians lack the acid and enzymes needed to digest protein because of our history of eating too many refined carbs, think polished rice and wheat. Which means you could have all that Horlicks and milk, and yet absorb very little protein from it. I do understand it’s not the brand’s role to be a personal nutritionist... It’s important that viewers are aware of this.

· My biggest grouse is the source of protein, i.e., milk, soy and sugar. Most adults are unable to digest milk because we no longer produce the lactase enzyme. Bloating or gas from lactose intolerance and milk allergies are so common in India. While soy contains protein, most of it is GMO. You surely want to stay away from it. Soy also has anti-nutrients, compounds that prevent the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. For women’s hormone health, soy is highly avoidable because of its estrogen-mimicking effects. The third ingredient in this product is sugar, which is quite inflammatory and the cause of most chronic health issues we see in India today.

I love seeing a sprightly (Akshay) Kumar. I also like the idea of encouraging people to have more protein. But with this product? Not really.

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