What's In Your Protein Powder?

Too often we fall victim to marketing strategies, "all natural", "gluten free", "fat free", "healthy" and fail to realize the truth lies within the walls of the box located on the back of the package. There's really no regulation to market a product as "healthy", it is up to us to decode the nutritional label and discover the truth. 

Most people fail to realize that just because protein powder is a nutritional supplement, does not necessarily make it healthy. In fact, I come across more unhealthy products than I do health-benefiting ones. 

Being a protein conscious {I try to ensure I have a complete protein at every meal} vegetarian, I rely heavily on protein powder. With the frequency at which I consume it, it had certainly better be healthy! On my quest to search for the perfect protein and falling short many times, I'm happy to have finally found MY match: SUNWARRIOR. How have I not heard of this brand before? Vegan, zero sugars, 18 grams of protein and completely clean. This protein is just speaking my love language! 

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When reading the label, focus on 3 main things:

Protein:

Protein powder can be made up of whey, soy or a combination of legumes and grains. 

Soy is quite controversial in the nutrition world. While it does have many health benefits, there's room for concern. Soy contains large amounts of biologically active compounds called isoflavones. Isoflavones act as phytoestrogens, and simply put, activate estrogen within the body. Therefore, disrupting and inactivating normal estrogen/hormonal function. This can potentially increase risks for breast cancer, low sperm count, menstrual issues, etc. To read more about how this can effect you, read this. It's a great article and shows many perspectives backed by actual scientific research! While I never encourage to eliminate foods completely, soy isn't something I'd suggest eating on any sort of regular basis. If you power through protein powder as fast as I do, it's probably not for you.  

Whey protein is made from milk and is the liquid portion that separates during coagulation of cheese production. In my years as a nutritionist, I've heard more people having 'issues' with whey protein than anything else due to the high percentage of people that have dairy/lactose intolerances. If you're feeding your body something that doesn't agree with you digestively, you are creating stress on your body and making it harder to reach your goals. If you bloat, have discomfort, get gassy or have any other issues, it's probably best to go with a vegan protein option that might agree with you better. However, if dairy/whey is not an issue for you, research has found it to be very beneficial for increasing protein synthesis and decreasing blood glucose levels {it spikes insulin levels, allowing more glucose to be absorbed in tissues}. 

Vegan Protein is where it's at for me! No bloat, stomach distress, tastes delicious, no controversy, typically gluten free... just good stuff in small heaping scoops.  Most vegan proteins are made of a combination of gluten free grains to make a complete protein with all essential amino acids {ex. pea protein + rice protein}. I've tried several vegan proteins- Vegan Max {from Life Time}, Vega One, Garden of Life and Sunwarrior. They are all healthy according to my standards but I've recently taken a liking to Sunwarrior. It has a lot of variety of grain protein sources, multiple flavors {I'm a vanilla girl!}, mixes well with oats and has zero sugars. All things I look for in the perfect protein powder! I suggest trying any of the above and see what works best for you. 

Sugars:

If you're following along with my blog then I'm sure you've previously read my take on sugar: It's the silent killer. If everyone would just eliminate added sugar from their diet the world would be a healthier place. But it just makes everything taste so good. I know. However, as someone who uses protein powder daily, twice daily, okay... sometimes three times a day, I can't have added sugar in my protein powder. Otherwise, I may as well just eat a cookie or two every day. 

Rule of thumb is to keep your added sugar under 25 grams a day per the American Heart Association. That's a mere 6 teaspoons. Try it. I DARE you. You'll be blown away how much sugar creeps into your innocent little mouths! I'll save those 6 teaspoons for my bajillion cups of coffee and keep my protein lean and clean. 

In all seriousness, this is something you really need to watch out for in protein powders. If you're protein tastes like heaven on earth, dessert or 'too good to be true', then it's probably packed with sugar. I've seen protein powder with up to 16g of sugar and qualifying itself as "health food"! If your goal is weight loss or health, make sure you're not sabotaging your goals by overlooking the amount of sugar your consuming with your "healthy" protein powder! 

ZERO SUGARS! It's really hard to find that. Or, I should say it's really hard to find one that tastes good with zero sugars. 

ZERO SUGARS! It's really hard to find that. Or, I should say it's really hard to find one that tastes good with zero sugars. 

Many of the Vegan Protein Powders I listed above are naturally sweetened with Stevia. Some of the ones I've tasted can be quite overbearing {although, I don't mind the taste} so if you're looking for a more subtle, less sweet protein powder, try Sunwarrior. 

Ingredients:

Go look at your protein powder and read the list of ingredients. Can you pronounce them all? Is cane sugar the 2nd or 3rd ingredient? Is the list of ingredients long?

If I were to read you the list of ingredients from my Sunwarrior Protein Powder it looks like this: Organic Pea, Organic Brown Rice, Organic Quinoa, Organic Chia Seed, Organic Amaranth, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt, Organic Guar Fiber (fiber from guar plant, used as thickening agent), Organic Stevia (sweetner). Those are all foods I EAT! And thus, I feel 100% confident in consuming this on a {way too} regular basis. 

A lot of manufacturers cut their protein powder with "filler" ingredients to increase their profit margins. You can't blame a company for wanting to make money just understand that cheap protein is probably made with cheap ingredients. Typically, cheap ingredients are detrimental to your health goals. So, do your research, read your labels and find the best BANG {healthiest, purest, best quality protein} for your BUCK {the best price}. 

Ideally, with protein powder {as well as other packaged food} try to keep the ingredient list under 5 ingredients, unless you can read, pronounce and know what each ingredient is. 

If you're going to be a label reading maniac, you may as well be a good one. Proteins, sugars, ingredient list... in no particular order. ALL ARE IMPORTANT!

If you've found this article helpful, please share! Leave me messages in the comments with your favorite, healthy protein brands and how you use them! Subscribe below to make sure you don't miss out on getting weekly protein smoothie recipes starting January 1st!