Today’s topic is a pretty exciting one because it was actually a reader request! The request was for a post about my thoughts on protein powders, and I’m hopeful this will resonate with quite a few readers!
Like most things in the wellness world, the discussion around protein powders is not black and white. I think there are a few factors at play here, with the most important one being the quality of the protein powder.
In terms of quality, finding a protein powder can definitely be overwhelming. Even if you go into a store like Target, there are suddenly tons of options available. And don’t even get me started about searching online, the number of results are astounding! All of these different products can lead to “consumer confusion” and you will likely just buy something that is on sale or has a label that you are drawn to. But, I have some personal experience with protein powders and have used a few over the years, so I will tell you generally what I have found.
First, and most importantly, ingredients matter. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise coming from me, but since some people use these products daily (or multiple times a day) it is so important for the ingredients to be clean. What do I mean by clean? If you are using whey protein, I would prefer it is grass-fed whey protein. Next comes the flavoring, which is where things can really go awry. I feel like protein powders can practically be turned into dessert with flavors such as “cake batter” or “chocolate brownie” etc. These flavors generally come from a sugar substitutes such as stevia, xylitol, sucralose, etc. And then comes the added ingredients such as bad oils (canola, soy, corn, etc.) or other “fillers” like carrageenan or xantham gum.
These sweeteners and additives are what cause me the most concern. Sugar substitutes in general make me wary, even stevia which has been touted as “natural”. Even if it doesn’t cause problems like say, aspartame does, these sugar substitutes are still INCREDIBLY sweet (much more than regular sugar) and can cause your body to start craving sweet tastes. I really think that when I used to use chocolate protein powder I was kind of addicted to the stevia in it. If I wanted to sweeten up my fat free yogurt or cottage cheese, I added chocolate protein powder! I used it constantly and acted like this was fine because I was adding protein with “zero grams” of sugar. But really, I loved the incredibly sweet taste. These high sugar tastes are not found in nature so we can easily crave or get addicted to them.
The additives are the next issue, possibly even worse than the sugar substitute issue. These extra oils or filler ingredients can cause a lot of issues and have been linked to everything from heart disease and fatty liver disease, to bloating and weight gain. As an example, take a look at the ingredients in chocolate Muscle Milk
Protein blend (calcium sodium caseinate, milk protein isolate, whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein concentrate, lactoferrin, l-glutamine, taurine), maltodextrin, alkalized cocoa powder, sunflower oil, solublecorn fiber, canola oil, crystalline fructose, medium chain triglycerides, natural and artificial flavors, dicalcium phosphate, less than 1% of: potassium chloride, inulin, magnesium oxide, potassium bicarbonate, acesulfame potassium, soy lecithin, DL-alpha tocopheryl acetate, ascorbic acid, sucralose, ferrous fumarate, Vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, zinc oxide, copper gluconate, D-Calcium pantothenate, L-Carnitine, cholecalciferol, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, chromium chloride, folic acid, biotin, potassium iodide, cyanocobalamin.
There are artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, soy, corn, etc! Not something that you want to be consuming as part of a healthy breakfast or workout recovery.
Even though I am not a huge fan of conventional protein powders, I do think there are some decent options out there! However, if your purpose for using these powders is as a meal replacement, or even pre/ post workout aid, I will still maintain the stance that eating REAL food is still your best option. Having some turkey slices, half a sweet potato with a hardboiled egg, some cottage cheese/ yogurt with nuts, an apple with almond butter or even an RX bar are still, in my mind, your best options. No matter what, I don’t think that real food can be replaced by something in a powder form. However, I totally get the reason for wanting a shake pre/ post workout or sometimes wanting a smoothie for breakfast in a time crunch. However, if you aren’t getting “results” from a protein powder, you may not be assimilating it as well as you think and you may want to try switching to eating real food.
That being said, I do think there are some decent products out there if you do choose to use a protein powder. For me, I use Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. I don’t even necessarily consider this a protein powder (at least not in the traditional sense) because collagen does SO much for our bodies. It has 18 grams of protein per serving and this protein is HIGHLY digestible. Collagen is also great for balancing our hormones, supporting thyroid function, supporting our skin health and aiding with digestion and satiety. This has no flavor, so you can add it to anything and it will not change the taste of what you are eating/ drinking. It comes from a quality, grass fed source and it also supports weight loss (if that’s your goal) and keeping your stress levels down. I usually order this online.
The next product I have tried and have liked is Tera’s Whey protein, which is available online and at most Whole Foods. The flavored versions do use stevia, so you can see my note above about why I don’t think using these incredibly sweet products is optimal, but they also have an unsweetened version which I enjoy and another version made from goat’s whey, which may be easier to digest for those with dairy allergies. This is grass fed whey protein, so it’s coming from a good source.
For those that do not want animal protein, Sunwarrior has a few options that use plant based protein. The ingredient list is pretty long, but it doesn’t include some of the worrisome ingredients above. This is a good option for someone who wants a plant based source as it uses pea and cranberry protein. You can also buy this at Whole Foods or online.
This is not an all-encompassing list, there are a good amount of options out there just make sure to read the ingredient label and do some research on the company.
That about sums it up! Any protein powders you absolutely love? Or are you not really into them? Leave your thoughts below!