Questions you should ask before buying protein powder, plus tips on choosing the right one.
Although most of the time we are talking about how important it is to eat real, natural, whole foods, there are times where protein powders happily fit into a balanced diet. Protein powder can be a helpful tool when used to balance out a smoothie; the added protein will make it more satiating. Drank as is mixed with water, a protein shake can help to bridge the gap between a workout if the next meal is a few hours away.
Since protein powders have been around for a very long time, the market can be an absolute jungle. Especially when it comes to finding something that you’re going to eat on a regular basis, making the right choice is important. I’ve made an attempt to break it down. First, here are two things to consider when choosing a protein powder.
Question 1: Is it natural?
Our bodies are designed to eat food. Real food. Protein powders are processed, but there’s processed, and then there’sultra-mega processed. The less natural protein powders that you must avoid are ones containing synthetic ingredients to either sweeten, colour, flavour, preserve, or modify the texture of the final product. Some artificial ingredients are worse than others. For example, some food dyes found in US products have been found to be contaminated with carcinogens, such as benzidine (more on this has been well-covered by Foodbabe.com). In my humble opinion, the sheer volume of additives in some popular protein powders is a marketing disgrace. All additives we consume need to be filtered and processed by the body. Why give your liver unnecessary work, when it already has a big enough task to detoxify your gut, balance your hormones, and manage cholesterol levels?
I had a look at some top protein brands to identify common ingredients to watch out for…
Ingredients to AVOID
- Artificial sweeteners: Most commonly Aspartame, Acesulfame potassium, Saccharin, and Sucralose.
- Flavours: Anything labelled as an “artificial flavour”
- Sunflower oil
- Corn syrup
- Casein: Sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, micellar casein
Maybe OK if you have a healthy gut, but watch sheer volume:
- Multivitamins and minerals
- Gums: Guar, xanthan, carrageenan
In an ideal world, your protein should have minimal additives, and when used, additives should be derived from natural ingredients.
Additives to not necessarily be concerned about:
- Protein (this should be the main ingredient)
- Natural sweeteners: Stevia, monk fruit
- Natural flavours
Notice I didn’t say any are good. That’s because anything, yes, even multivitamins, consumed in a processed, unnatural form has the potential to create imbalances and metabolic stress.
Question 2: Does it contain ingredients that I am intolerant to?
Food intolerances create inflammation. They dysregulate your gut affecting your bacteria populations and your ability to break down and assimilate nutrition. If you are even mildlyintolerant to a supplement, taking it just to meet your protein needsis seriously like shooting yourself in the foot.
Stop eating things that your body has clearly told you that it’s not happy with.
Food intolerances can show up as indigestion, gut pain, bloating, fiercely smelly wind, sinus congestion, mucus, and brain fog.
If you are intolerant to dairy, then don’t eat a dairy-based protein powder. That means no whey or casein.
If you are intolerant to soy or egg. Then don’t supplement with them either.
If your gut is a mess and you think you have many food sensitivities, then err on the side of caution, and avoid all of the above. See below for my recommendations on low-allergenic protein powders.
Tips for choosing the right one
Now that we have probably ruled out 90% of the protein powders available on the market, it should be easier than ever to make a choice.
We’re actually quite lucky now that the market has responded to increased consumer demand for good quality natural protein powders. Here’s a breakdown of some healthy protein powders available in New Zealand and a few things to consider:
Pea and pea/rice blends:
- If you have irritable bowel syndrome, be cautious of these plant-based options as they can cause bloating. Pea protein is making its way up on the top allergen list, potentially because of its prominent use in the plant-based food supply.
- Top plant-based protein picks:
Clean Lean Protein
- Hemp is generally a well-balanced protein. However, it’s usually higher in fat and fibre, making it more filling. It also tends to carry a very grassy flavour, so it’s good to combine it with something else more pleasant tasting.
- For a good range of hemp proteins go to: https://www.hempwellness.co.nz/
Non-plant based options:
- Collagen is becoming increasingly popular since it ticks many boxes for several health benefits. People take it for the glycine, an amino acid in collagen which supports collagen synthesis in bones, joints, and skin; liver health; hormonal balance; and mood.
- Collagen is considered to be an incomplete protein, although good for the gut, it’s shy of some essential amino acids. Missing a few amino acids in one meal usually not a problem if you’re getting enough protein in your diet as a whole, but if you have any concerns that you could be falling short of your requirements, then add in an essential amino acid formula.
- Top collagen picks:
Plain, pure bovine collagen
ATP science for a flavoured option
Amino acid powder
- The tried and true choice of a protein supplement. Great choice…only if you tolerate dairy. Dairy quality also varies vastly. The best whey protein should be high quality, New Zealand sourced whey protein concentrate. Imported protein powders are more likely to be rancid. Non-local milk powder is also more likely produced from sick, confined fed feeding lot animals somewhere in America. Gross.
- Also err with caution around Whey Protein Isolate (WPI). Since WPI is a more processed product, people with sensitive guts may experience more digestive issues with WPI.
- Top whey picks, made from New Zealand-sources dairy:
There you have it, my humble opinion on top protein picks for the new decade. There’s bound to be more science in the world of protein to come, so I’ll keep my finger on the pulse and keep an eye out as more alternatives continue to pop up to suit a range of unique needs.