There are so many protein powders available today that it can be challenging to know what's best for you, and which ones are truly healthy vs. being marketed that way.
On today's Food as Medicine, we break down the three major ingredients that do not belong in your protein powder and your body. Then we share our five favorite animal protein powders and our three favorite plant-based protein powders and teach you how to source for quality so that they are truly food as medicine.
3 Ingredients to Avoid
Due to how it lowers the thyroid, is one of the five most common food sensitivities and can have estrogen-mimicking properties, steer clear of all forms of non-fermented soy. Learn more about the dangers of non-fermented soy here.
This is the family of proteins that are commonly found in milk, and it gets a bad rap in the health food world. It's important to know that it's not so much the casein that's a problem but the chemical extraction process they use that causes all the health issues and symptoms. Bodybuilders like to consume casein because it slows down the breakdown of muscle, but there are other ways to get that benefit.
The preferred artificial sweetener of choice now for most big food manufacturers because it's not broken down by the body, so it doesn't have any calories. It's hundreds of time sweeter than sugar, three times sweeter than aspartame, and twice as sweet as saccharin. In a dual sweet flavor and weight-loss obsessed society, sucralose has enjoyed a long and proliferate reign of terror, but together we can stop that. It's a chlorinated compound that we do not want in our bodies, and it's origin story had it intended for industrial use, not human consumption (read the history here). Plus, there is now data coming out saying that sucralose can contribute to weight gain and heart disease risks. So please, pass on the sucralose (Splenda) every chance you get and instead opt for stevia or monk fruit (or no sweetener) as the healthy sweeteners of choice in your protein powder.
Animal Protein Powders
The absolute best way to know what kind of protein powder is best for you is to test your blood via a food sensitivity test and to try them individually for a few days in a row to see how they make you feel. Top quality whey and collagen are my body's personal favorite, but I haven't tried cricket protein powder yet. Here are five options for you to choose from.
Keep in mind that grass-fed whey and non-grass fed whey should be categorized as two completely different foods as they relate to your health.
“The amount of the fatty acid, conjugate linoleic acid (CLA) is 3-5 times higher in grass-fed whey compared to commercial whey products. CLA has been shown to enhance muscle growth and metabolism, which helps the body to burn fat! Protein helps to satisfy your appetite, which can help to prevent overeating”.
It supplies a rich variety of nutrients that boast numerous health benefits on weight, immunity, brain function, muscle repair, and diabetes. Fit 365 is far and away my favorite protein powder for quality. It boasts 100% grass-fed, grass-finished whey from New Zealand cows, coconut oil, pink salt, and is monk-fruit sweetened. This is the one product I've been consistently consuming for over ten years now.
Goat whey protein powder has all the same benefits of cow's whey but with much less lactose, making it a better choice for those who lack the enzyme lactose.
Bone Broth Protein
This is a nice way to get your protein and the gut healing properties that come with bone broth without having to cook. Although the caveat here is that a processed form of bone broth will never replace the health value of the real thing. Bone broth protein would pale in comparison to Grandma's chicken soup to help lift you out of the common cold, but it is easy to digest and absorb. Make sure it says pasture-raised on the container.
How do I love collagen, let me count the ways? Complete amino acid profile, easy to mix into just about anything, 9 grams of protein per scoop, supports gut lining, brain function, skin, hair, nails, and connective tissue. This is a staple in my pantry, and I am not often without my Vital Proteins collagen (I even travel with the to-go packets) or Fit 365 whey protein powder.
Egg White Protein
An excellent vegetarian choice is egg white protein as long as you mix it up with other plant-based protein powders to avoid creating a food sensitivity since they are not using the whole egg. It is an abundant source of usable protein and very low in carbohydrates. Quality is everything when it comes to egg white protein powder. Make sure to get an organic variety without hormones or antibiotics and stay away from conventional brands that spray dry in the manufacturing process. As far as we know, Jay Robb and Paleo Protein powder still pass the muster.
Yes, that's right. It comes from bugs. Studies in the Journal Agricultural and Food Chemistry have proven that cricket protein is even more bioavailable than beef. They also show that it contains higher amounts of omega 3s than salmon, and as an added bonus, they use dramatically much less water, land, and feed, which makes this the number one most sustainable animal source of protein. Since we have not tried it ourselves, we reached out to our Paleo friend experts who unanimously recommended Chapul Cricket protein powder. If you are a Cricket Protein lover, please comment on the taste and usability below.
After we initially published this blog, the folks at Chapul reached out to us to share some additional tips about their cricket protein powder: “We are getting a great response on taste from our flavored proteins, as the chocolate and vanilla are familiar flavor profiles. The 100% Pure protein is less processed and therefore a little larger particle size. The best way to describe the taste is “earthy” similar to an amaranth or quinoa flour. It is ~ 65% protein so the flavor is not muted by extra carbs. We find consumers preferring to mix it with coarse ingredients (smoothies) or in baking, as opposed to mixing in water.”
If you have experience with beef protein powder, we'd also love to hear from you in the comments below.
Far and away hemp wins the plant-based content of healthiest protein powders for me. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Hemp protein powder has 20 amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids that your body is unable to produce on its own and therefore must obtain from dietary sources. It can be mixed with fruit and digested well, which is more than we can say for other plant-based protein powder sources due to digestive rates. Nutiva wins for our favorite brand in this category.
If you are vegan and looking for the plant-based protein powder equivalent to casein or whey, pea protein is for you. It has a wonderful amino acid profile including branch-chain amino acids that decrease muscle breakdown after workouts. It can cause digestive upset if mixed with fruit in some folks, so let your body be the judge between having a fruit versus avocado smoothie.
Brown Rice Protein
This ranks number three because we really prefer hemp and pea to brown rice protein, but rice protein powder does provide essential amino acids, vitamins B, and E, fiber, and carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar.
There you have it, the skinny on protein powder. We recommend whichever you choose, select a few and mix and match your protein sources so that you're not giving your body the same food all the time and are varying your nutrient profile.
Now, we'd like to hear from you! What's your favorite protein powder and why?