Not so long ago, I advised everyone to steer clear of protein powders at all costs, since most are full of additives, over-processed, expensive, taste weird, cause digestive upset, and are just, well, creepy.
However, a few companies out there must have also felt my pain, because now some fabulous options exist for quality, natural powders!
But, how do you pick a good one?
First, the basics:
When choosing a protein powder, first check for non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) and organic certifications, and then scan the ingredient list.
Does it contain additives, chemicals, and artificial or refined sugars?
In other words, are you familiar with the ingredients?
Second, identify the source of protein.
All bodies tolerate ingredients in varying doses differently.
Below are the primary types of protein powders on the market and key pros and cons:
Pros: Lower cost, may taste great, highly researched, complete protein source, bioavailable zinc and iron.
Cons: Whey is often heat-processed which can damage nutrients; milk proteins can cause digestive upset and other intolerance symptoms; often full of fillers, sugars and additives, including GMOs.
My Verdict: IF you can get a high quality natural product made with whey from grass-fed cows, and if you don’t have digestive issues with dairy, whey is a great choice.
Pros: May have some health benefits; releases the protein into your system more slowly.
Cons: Often genetically modified, soy is a common allergen. Contains anti-nutrients and phytoestrogens, which can wreak havoc on your hormones.
My Verdict: I say no to soy. See why in my article, The Skinny on Soy.
Pros: Neutral taste, economical; many are free of artificial ingredients; lactose-free.
Cons: May be derived from genetically modified rice; un-sprouted rice may cause nutrient deficiencies and digestive problems; not a complete protein since it’s a plant protein.
My Verdict: Great choice. Just make sure to get a high quality powder, ideally made from sprouted rice. To get a complete protein, go for a blend that combines rice, hemp and/or pea proteins. Or, crack an egg into your shake. 🙂
Pros: Provides omega essential fats; many are high fiber; attainable in raw form; high in iron; easy to digest.
Cons: Lower protein content than other varieties; lower dissolvability than other varieties.
My Verdict: A great choice of plant-based protein, although I don’t find pure hemp protein to be very tasty. Try a blend like hemp, rice, artichoke, etc., which tastes much much better in my opinion.
Pros: Very easy to digest; rich in nutrients and glutamine; fluffy texture; many of are free of artificial additives; contains all the essential amino acids to be a complete protein.
Cons: Uric acid content may cause your body to leach calcium if not used in moderation, so not a good choice for people with gout; processing can lead to chemical contamination in low-quality brands; may not be as tasty.
My Verdict: This is a relatively new product, but with many pros! I think it’s a good choice in moderation and as an ingredient with other proteins in blended powders.
Other important considerations:
– You may have to experiment with a few protein powders to see which ones work best for your unique biochemistry. Listen to your body—if you are bloated, cramping, gassy, etc., after your shake—it may be the wrong protein powder.
– If you have regular digestive issues or food intolerances, stick with the plant based protein powders like hemp, rice, or pea protein.
– If you use protein powders regularly, rotating protein types every month or so may help against developing intolerances.
– Remember, you often get what you pay for. Very cheap powders usually have higher amounts of additives and fillers and lower levels of nutrition.
– Protein powders seem like a big commitment at first because they’re expensive and come in a seemingly huge amount. Happily, many companies will sell individual sample packets so you can try before you commit to a giant tub.
Also, ask to try a scoop from a friend who’s been raving about their powder to see if you like it.
– You’ve got to doctor powders up with tasty recipes! Life is too short for powder mixed in water or almond/coconut/whatever milk! Have some fun with it.
It’s easy! And, you deserve your healthy snack to also be a delicious snack.
And since we eat with our eyes first, serve it in a beautiful glass. 🙂
– If you buy whey protein, choose it from grass-fed cows.
– Enjoy non-soy, plant-based protein powders with a non-GMO and ideally organic designation.
– Use a recipe to get the most enjoyment out of your protein shake!