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Protein Powder — They are NOT Created Equal

October 30, 2016 By , ,

Protein Powder Shakes -- the GOOD and the BAD!
Protein Powder Shakes — the GOOD and the BAD!

The Lure of Protein Powder in our Modern Day Diet 

The lure of protein powders is that they offer a very, convenient protein source that doesn’t require any prep or clean up and I definitely understand the appeal. There were years when I was in medical school and I loved the ease of protein powder to suit my caloric and macro-nutrient needs.  I would blend it up with water, hemp seeds, chia seeds and vita mineral greens and be on my way!  I love it still. Honestly, it is not a bad way to go but, over the years, I have learned that MOST protein powders on the market are not really high quality nutrition.  With a few notable exceptions, most of them are not worth buying (my opinion, of course).

I know, they are super convenient!  I still use them with frequency but, I do not rely on them to fuel my body and I am cautious of which brands that I choose. This is info that I share with all of my Naturopathic and HCG Diet patients.


PROTEIN is a very important part of a healthy diet, but the processed powdered forms are not always the best option. There are times when I see patients who rely solely on protein powders and protein bars for nutrition. Maybe I am just a purist, but the thought of eating all food made in a factory makes me cringe a bit.

Proteins are the building blocks of life and every living cell uses them for both structural and functional purposes.  Proteins are long chains of amino acids that are linked and folded into complex geometric shapes.  There are 12 (non essential) amino acids that our bodies can produce and 9 essential amino acids that we must get from our diet!

When I look at a protein source, I always look at its amino acid profile. The best source will contain ALL of the essential amino acids in the correct ratios.  The bio availability of these nutrients is dependent upon the proper form and ratio!  The more processed, the less powerful the amino acids will actually be when they are in the body  — despite the great amino acid profile and label claim. Don’t believe the hype. Marketing is powerful and often mis-leading.

How Protein Helps with Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance

Protein can help with weight loss mainly by reducing appetite. I find that clinically, my patients with an optimal protein intake for their body composition and activity level are satiated by good protein sources. Protein also does not create the spike in insulin and cortisol that  most carbohydrate rich foods can.

Recently, I read a study where obese men were given protein as 25% of their calories.  They reported an increased feeling of fullness and the desire to snack in the evening was reduced by 50%. They also had a strong reduction in obsessive food thoughts.

The Protein Source!  It Matters!

With any food, the source matters! I would say that this is especially true for protein.

I have learned that grass fed beef has 2-4 times the omega 3 fatty acids as grain fed beef sources.  Grass fed beef also shows a different saturated fat profile than conventionally raised beef.  There are 3 dominant saturated fatty acids in beef: stearic acid (which is not known to raise cholesterol); palmitic acid (raises cholesterol) and myristic acid (raises cholesterol). Grass fed beef is higher in stearic acid while grain fed beef is higher in palmitic and myristic acids.

The Problems with Most Protein Powder

Since source does really matter, we should choose organic protein sources and grass fed if you are going for a dairy based protein powder.  Other concerns are that the supplement industry is fairly unregulated and anyone can put complete “junk” out there. I see it all the time.

A few years ago, a Consumer Reports investigation found low to moderate levels of mercury, arsenic and lead in many well known brands of protein powders. There are SO many protein powders out there that contain highly processed soy and whey. They also contain a myriad of  artificial sweeteners, sugars, artificial flavors/colors, and synthetic nutrients that are not easily absorbed by the body.

Just like any supplement, high quality protein powders can be beneficial. However, lets not rely on these factory made foods for our main source of nutrition (if we can avoid it).

What are Great Sources of Protein?

I find that whole food sources of protein like meats and vegetables are always best (if possible.)  Those who tolerate dairy can use a whey based protein powder, though it can be difficult to find a grass-fed, organic and non-GMO source. Many people report that Tera’s Whey is a nice one (organic and no-GMO with cold processing). If I am going to do a whey protein, I am going to spend a little extra and use BEYOND Weigh by Natura!  The processing they choose feels right to me.  Keep in mind, many people are dairy sensitive (and do not even know it) and whey protein can increase gut permeability.

Plant based protein powders like hemp, rice, pea and more are often not complete sources of protein. Some individuals will have reactions to pea protein which  can increase gut permeability.  I find the cleanest source of plant based protein powders to be Sun Warrior and Health Force Nutritionals.

A Common Question in My Practice: “What do I Use?”

In my family, we tend to focus on whole protein sources such as sustainably caught fish and grass fed and pasture raised meats.  I like to also make bone broth as this method offers amino acids such as proline and glycine which are not very high in animal muscle tissue … aka meat!

I also LOVE Collagen proteins which are fairly tasteless forms of gelatin (that do not gel).  It can be blended into a hot or cold beverage. It actually adds a deliciousness to tea or coffee (do you believe me?).  This stuff has a great amino acid profile and contains amounts of glycine, lycine and proline much higher than animal sources of protein. These amino acids are very helpful when it comes to cell growth and connective tissue repair.   Collagen hydroxylate is also extremely absorbable and great for those with digestive issues.  My favorite brands are Great Lakes and Vital Proteins for the Collagen Protein!

Hydrolyzed Collagen is great for joints needing cartilage repair!  It is great for synovial fluid. Remember, thirty percent of our bodies are collagen. It is also great for hair, skin, nails, muscles, ligaments and blood cell growth/repair. I noticed a difference in my skin after using it regularly for a couple of months. I aim for 3 or 4 tbsp per day!


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