Protein Powders Are NOT All Created Equal (Far from it!)

protein-drink-1Protein powder supplements are everywhere, and choosing a high quality one that is beneficial to your body can be confusing and mind boggling. They are vastly different because of the sources of ingredients as well as manufacturers’ practices.

I personally love protein smoothies and shakes (I’m drinking one as I write) and I consume at least one or two a day. You can’t beat the convenience or the nutrition.

Why use protein powders?

Protein is essential in our diets and necessary to build, maintain and repair muscle. Meats contain complete proteins and plants contain incomplete proteins which have to be combined to make a complete protein. The problem with turning to meat exclusively for your protein is that meat is acidic. It’s very vital to our health to keep our internal environment as disease-fighting and health- producing alkaline as possible (think fruits and veggies).

Another problem with commercial meat is that it is filled with chemicals, antibiotics and hormones.

What kind of protein powder should I choose?

Let’s make this simple and break protein powders into two categories: animal-based (whey, casein or egg); plant-based (soy, rice, sprouts and various grains).

Whey protein

I believe whey protein concentrate is superior to casein or egg. Casein is the protein responsible for most dairy allergies and intolerances. Whey is digested faster than both casein and egg.

The benefits of consuming whey are valid for muscle building, muscle recovery and weight management. Whey packs a protein punch. Just 3 ounces of high quality whey is the equivalent of eating 1.5 pounds of chicken or 16 eggs.

The tricky part is picking a high quality whey product. Whey protein isolate is heat processed and strips the product of alkalinity—avoid it like a bad suit. Look for whole food, cold-processed whey concentrate made from organic fed cows not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics. I give two of my favorites at the end of this article.

protein-drink-2Many whey proteins are exposed to acid processing. Heat and acid damages the protein and makes it insoluble in water. Insoluble powders are not ideal for a variety of reasons, so manufacturers add chemical flavors and detergents to restore flavor and solubility. Other undesirable ingredients include chemical surfactants, genetically modified soy lecithin, disguised MSG chemicals and artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.

Even if you decide to go with a high-quality, organic whey concentrate (like the products I’ve highlighted below), I want to give a big caution. If you are going to consume whey, it is critical to maintain a diet high in other plant-based foods. Whey is still derived from animal sources and therefore can be acid-forming in large quantities—the same as a diet with an over emphasis on meat and dairy. Maintaining an alkaline body is key to avoiding disease, and eating a diet full of plant based foods is the only way to keep the body alkaline.

Plant-based protein

Plants have to be combined to make a complete protein (unlike animal protein). Most plant based protein powders use various grains and sprouts combined. Again, purchase only organic, whole food products from a reputable company.

I have to be honest, I’m not a fan of soy protein and especially don’t like soy protein isolate products. Over 90% of all soy grown in the US is genetically modified (GMO). GMO foods have been shown to exhibit health risks including hormone and thyroid disruption and fertility problems. Organic soy is the only kind that should be consumed.

Is there anything else I need to consider when purchasing a protein powder?

Just recently ConsumerLab tested many popular protein powders and surprisingly found some with toxic levels (exceeds the USP limit) of heavy metals.

Robert Wright, M.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who is conducting research on the health effects of exposure to toxic metals says, “Small amounts of exposure are inevitable, but a product that exceeds the USP limit is clearly doing something wrong.” Consumer Reports also investigated and published its findings: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/protein-drinks/index.htm.

As you can see, there is much to consider when purchasing a high quality protein product. Be careful and selective—you could actually be doing yourself more harm than good, if you consume an inferior product. There are a boatload of good products out there, I highlighted just a few of my favorites below. I’m lifting my own glass up right now and wishing you, “Happy shakes and smoothies!”

WHEY PROTEINS

dr-mercola-whey Dr. Mercola Miracle Whey (16 oz., $33 proteinpowder.mercola.com)This whey protein concentrate is obtained from all-natural pasture-fed cows and is certified free of GMO ingredients, pesticides, and chemicals. It is cold processed and contains water-soluble fiber. Dr. Mercola’s Miracle Whey also contains MCTs from all-natural coconut oil for easy digestion and fast energy as well as glutamic acid and branch chain amino acids which aid muscle-building and recovery.
teras-whey Tara’s Whey (12 oz., $24 Amazon.com)Tera’s whey is made in small batches and takes considerable care in how the whey is processed. It is carefully sourced whey from small family farms and artisan cheese makers in the dairy heartland of America, Wisconsin. Tera’s is certified organic from ethically treated cow milk sources, paired with premium organic ingredients including high antioxidant super fruits and low glycemic stevia. This whey also comes in some very delicious flavors like blueberry and coffee that are real food based – not loaded with ambiguous “natural flavors.”

PLANT-BASED PROTEIN POWDERS

healthforce-warrior-food Healthforce Nutritional Warrior Food Extreme Plus (35.3 oz, $60 Amazon.com)This company practices the highest quality processing methods and uses ingredients that are beyond simply organic. This includes authentic standards for production, non-toxic cleaning agents and pest control, electromagnetic radiation, processing agents additives, air quality, and actual verification of purity. The protein here is half “enzyme active” sprouted brown rice and half hemp seed based. Included in this formula are adrenal enhancing adaptagen herbs and digestive enzymes for easier assimilation. Organic raw vanilla and a little raw whole leaf stevia are used to flavor this product.
garden-life-protein Garden of Life RAW Protein (22 oz., $28.89 Amazon.com)This is another company that is “beyond organic” because of the high quality of the processing methods. This protein powder is sweetened by raw organic stevia. The protein source is a combination of organic sprouts and sprouted brown rice protein. It also contains live probiotics and enzymes as well as real vanilla and whole food fat soluble vitamins.

For those of you who want a little weight loss boost:

garden-life-fit-protein Garden of Life RAW Fit Protein Powder (16 oz, $29.41 Amazon.com)This product is one I use almost every day. RAW Fit with Svetol Green Coffee Bean Extract is a certified organic, raw, plant-based vegan high protein powder. I especially like this formula because of its glucose-stabilizing ingredients like cinnamon and chromium. RAW Fit plain is just slightly sweet because it is sweetened with fiber. (I think the flavors are sweetened with Stevia.) This powder features 28 grams of raw certified organic protein—a complete protein with 13 organic sprouts, plus raw organic soluble and insoluble fiber from certified organic grains, seed, legumes and fruit.
plantfusion-protein PlantFusion Protein Powder (32 oz, $32.35 Amazon.com)This is a highly blendable, great tasting protein powder. Most of the ingredients are organic and it is infused with L-glutamine and BCAAs to support lean body mass, and immune function. PlantFusion is sweetened with fructose and stevia and is low glycemic (4 grams of carbs per serving). The protein source is complete and entirely plant-based.

**Disclaimer: As with any dietary supplement, consult your healthcare practitioner before using this product, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, anticipate surgery, take medication on a regular basis or are otherwise under medical supervision.

10 Comments

  1. Posted on July 29, 2014 at 10:17 pm by Cori Pearl

    Hi Lindy,
    Can you speak to why use a protein powder at all? Is it for taste or for convenience? I’ve been making smoothies with plain Greek yogurt (22g protein), 2T ground flax (3g), some hemp seed, spinach,and then whatever fruit is in the house and a little Omega Swirl. Does the protein powder provide something I am missing, if I already take a good multi-vitamin and other supplements?
    Thanks!

  2. Posted on August 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm by Lindy Ford

    Great question, Cori. I like how you are making your smoothie–protein from yogurt, Omega 3’s from flax, hemp, Omega swirl and the antioxidants and nutrients from the fruit and spinach. Adding a high quality protein powder just gives you a little more nutritional bang for your buck and here is why:
    1. Extra boost of protein and protein is found to stabilize blood sugars. Caveat, you don’t want to do too much protein so moderation is key here.
    2. If you choose a plant based product, you are not getting any dairy which is a sensitivity for many people.
    3. Most protein powders (remember to choose only the good ones from pure sources), also contain other nutrients: Some contain blood sugar stabilizing ingredients like Cinnamon, some contain adaptagen herbs for stress, energy and mood and many contain digestive enzymes like Bromelain to easier absorption. Most of them don’t just contain protein.
    4. Also included in some formulas are Branch Chain Amino acids which are clinically proven to help build muscle which American women especially need.
    5. Too much fruit can raise blood sugars too high. Fruit is a great addition to a smoothie, but too much, especially the glycemic fruits like bananas and tropicals raise blood sugars a lot. Moderation is key here. I sometimes will have a fruit smoothie with berries and 1/4 of a banana, but my favorite is with almonds and cinnamon.

    You can be perfectly healthy without ever drinking one smoothie is your lifetime, but when you can get concentrated nutrition in a convenient form (something you can easily drink on your way to work etc) it is a good thing. I hope this answers your question! my best, lindy

  3. Posted on July 31, 2014 at 11:35 am by Susan Cook

    Hi Lindy; I’m stuggling with the breakfast thing and have seriously been considering just doing a shake in the mornings so my question is do you have a suggestion of which one I can use that would not spike my sugar very much? I love your newsletters and looking forward to making my cabbage steaks tonight !!

  4. Posted on August 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm by Lindy Ford

    Hey Susan, yes, you are absolutely right. The best protein smoothie is one that doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels. Another thing to look for would be a formula with blood sugar lowering properties like cinnamon and a natural, non glycemic sweetener. A smoothie I would suggest would be made with unsweetened almond or coconut milk and water, Garden of Life RAW Fit (if you like coffee, they have a new Marley Coffee; also this formula has blood sugar lowering nutrients as well as a sweetener from fiber!), a tbls of almond butter, handful of almonds, tbls of coconut oil, cinnamon to taste and ice to a consistency you like). You can whip this up in 5 minutes. By the way, because you a Maryland native. . . David’s natural has RAW fit on sale this month. Let me know what you think and if you like this smoothie. Warm regards, lindy

  5. Posted on July 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm by Dana

    Another great one is Vital Whey by Well Wisdom!

  6. Posted on August 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm by Lindy Ford

    Great to hear from you, Dana! I haven’t tried Vital Whey, but I will check it out. Where do you buy yours? lindy

  7. Posted on August 8, 2014 at 6:54 pm by Shelly

    I have been using the Plant Fusion based on your recommendation and love it as a supplement! Love the convenience and doesn’t taste bad!
    THANK YOU!

  8. Posted on August 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm by Lindy Ford

    Thanks, Shelly! What are you putting in your smoothie? PlantFusion is a favorite. . .

  9. Posted on November 6, 2014 at 4:29 pm by Beth Dixon

    Lindy,
    What do you think about Shakeology Shakes? Read many reviews..Are you familiar with this product? Advise your best shakes for health, protein and affordability..it can get expensive..Thanks

  10. Posted on November 6, 2014 at 7:32 pm by Lindy Ford

    Hey Beth, I like some of the Adaptagen herbs and other ingredients in the Shakeologies. Unfortunately, the Consumer Reports article that I referenced above reveals that these shakes are among the ones with highest heavy metals and toxicities. . .I would stick with the ones that I referenced. Many times they go on sale and there are coupons in the health food stores. This will help to keep the price reasonable. . .

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