What’s Really in Your Protein Powder?
March 26th, 2018
If you are what you eat, we should all be eating plenty of protein because our entire bodies are comprised primarily of protein! Eating sufficient amounts of protein is key for optimal health, especially if you have autoimmunity. After all, protein supports and fuels your entire immune system!
One convenient way to get more protein in your diet is by adding protein powder to your daily smoothie, and there are tons of options out there to choose from–whey, rice, soy, egg and pea–just to name a few. However, many of these options are actually highly inflammatory and can even be loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners, or other toxic ingredients.
In fact Consumer Reports just uncovered that many of the top-selling protein powders and drinks contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, and toxins such as bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastic containers and food can liners. These substances have been linked to cancer, brain damage, and reproductive issues. If you are prone to autoimmunity, this can be particularly damaging.
To help you sort through the options to help you discover which type of protein is best for you, I’m going to walk you through the essential health benefits of protein, which ingredients to avoid, and how to find a clean, high-quality source.
Essential Health Benefits of Protein
It is important first to understand the vital role protein plays in our bodies on a daily basis, so we can truly appreciate why we need to make sure we get enough of it in our diets. As a functional medicine doctor, I recommend a diet that focuses on nutrient-dense and colorful organic vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, wild caught fish and organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat, pork and poultry. Remember, protein supports your immune system, so this is key for anyone with autoimmunity!
What is Protein?
Proteins are basically long chains of amino acids. There are over 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to form a protein molecule. The specific sequence of these amino acids determines the protein’s structure and subsequent function. Your muscles and all your organs including your heart, eyes, stomach, and even your skin are built of protein. Protein molecules are the workhorses of your body, because they perform so many key functions which are vital to true health. They function as our antibodies, which fight viruses and bacteria to protect the body. They also function as our enzymes, carrying out most of the body’s chemical reactions, assisting in the formation of new molecules. Protein molecules also serve as our body’s messengers, transmitting vital signals throughout our bodies to coordinate different biological processes between cells, tissues and organs. Finally, protein molecules provide our body’s very structure and support, allowing us to move!1
Our bodies require complete proteins to build and repair every single structure. At the cellular level, our bodies are constantly regenerating, and this requires daily dietary protein intake to operate correctly and efficiently in performing all of these tasks. The necessary complete protein comprised of 9 essential amino acids cannot be generated by our bodies alone–we must get these from the foods we eat. The greatest abundance of protein comes in the form of animal products (meats, fish, eggs and dairy), yet it can also be found in some plant foods. The importance of supplementing our diets, if we cannot guarantee a daily intake of clean, grass-fed or wild-caught protein is irrefutable. Protein is what we’re made of!
I do want to add a quick note for all of the vegans and vegetarians. I, myself, was a vegetarian for over 20 years and I ultimately discovered that this played a big role in why I developed an autoimmune condition. In the years since, I have done extensive research and made a big shift in my own diet, and it’s why I recommend that anyone dealing with autoimmunity add animal protein into your diet.
What to Avoid in Your Protein Powder
While all protein powders tout the health benefits of a protein-rich diet, unfortunately, the hidden toxins and inflammatory ingredients in many protein powders can overshadow the health benefits of increased protein intake. Many of these powders are low-quality, processed with solvents and harmful chemicals. The problems abound with most products on the market today.
Whey and Casein
Whey and casein, both of which are derived from dairy, are among the most common types of protein powder. They are problematic as dairy is problematic for most of us! This is because dairy is highly inflammatory for a large percentage of the population resulting in digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. It is also linked to acne.
What’s wrong with dairy? In short, the problem with dairy lies in the sugar, or lactose, and the proteins casein and whey. If we lack the lactase enzyme, our bodies cannot break down the lactose in milk, making us “lactose intolerant.” Casein is a protein with a very similar molecular structure to gluten and 50% of people who are gluten intolerant are casein intolerant as well. Milk, and products made from milk, also can contain genetically engineered bovine growth hormone called rBGH used to increase milk production as well as antibiotics administered to cows to mitigate infections caused from this unnatural excessive milk production.
Gluten & Grains
Gluten is one of the top 2 foods to avoid if you have an autoimmune or thyroid condition. Not all protein powders are gluten-free. Gluten contributes to a leaky gut which then leads you down the path to autoimmune disease and can even prompt your immune system to attack your own tissues.
Rice protein is a common type of vegetarian protein, which is a grain, and grains are on the list of foods to avoid if you have an autoimmune condition, as grains and legumes cause leaky gut.
Protein powders sourced from eggs, or containing eggs can be a problem for anyone on the autoimmune spectrum, as eggs can be inflammatory for many people. Just as a seed (plant embryo) protects itself naturally with chemical defenses, so do other embryos, such as eggs. Just like a seed, eggs contain a protective enzyme. The enzyme, called lysozyme, is inflammatory to people with autoimmune conditions, so eggs are on the list of foods to toss.
A common choice is soy protein powder. This can cause an inflammatory response in the body, as the soy protein nearly always sourced from genetically modified soybeans in the US.
Hemp is another choice, which is vegan or plant-based. Hemp is related to marijuana, so it has trace amounts of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp is not considered a complete protein, because it has very low levels of the amino acids lysine and leucine. So, it’s not the most ideal choice!
Peas and Legumes
Pea protein powders are derived from legumes, which contribute to leaky gut–a major culprit in autoimmunity. An issue with vegan protein powders such as hemp and pea, is that plant proteins can be digested more slowly than animal proteins, due in part to their high fiber content. Although this may not be a problem for many people, it can limit the amount of amino acids available for immediate use after exercise, making them a less than ideal protein source.
Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Likewise hidden sugars in many protein powders cause a spike in blood sugar, and contribute to inflammation and increased caloric intake unnecessarily. Many protein powders also contain sweetener substitutes, which are artificial, carcinogenic chemicals that we know we should avoid.
Consumer Reports just uncovered that many of the top-selling protein powders and drinks contain noticeable amounts of heavy metals, and these metals are more prevalent in plant-based protein powders. They contain on average twice as much lead and measurably higher amounts of other contaminants.
What to Look for in a High-Quality Protein Powder
When looking for a high quality protein powder, to ensure your body is fueled with the necessary amino acids it needs to function optimally, make sure your protein powder meets the following criterion:
- Sourced from grass-fed, GMO-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free animals
- Free of inflammatory ingredients (gluten, dairy, whey, corn, soy, grains, legumes)
- No sugar or artificial sweeteners
- No colors, additives, preservatives, dyes or other toxic ingredients
- Avoid options with dangerous levels of heavy metals
I literally went 5 years without enjoying a protein smoothie, because I couldn’t find one that met my needs until I created my own protein powder, which is sourced from clean protein and is completely free of inflammatory ingredients. It has also been 3rd-party tested for heavy metal levels and passed with flying colors.
The Myers Way® Paleo Protein is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free, and sourced from non-GMO, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef. Don’t worry, you would never know it from the delicious taste! You also won’t find any other The Myers Way® ‘no-no’s’ including grains, soy, eggs, milk, corn, or legumes. It’s perfect for everyone, especially those following an autoimmune, paleo or ketogenic protocol or simply avoiding inflammatory foods! It contains a 21-26 grams of complete protein per serving (depending on which flavor you choose). It tastes fantastic, and it is incredibly easy to add to your daily routine.
What’s wonderful is that it comes in chocolate, vanilla, and mocha latte flavors, with a hint of stevia, and also in a plain version without stevia. It is also friendly for those on a ketogenic diet, because it is incredibly low carb. It’s great as a quick morning shake or added into a delicious smoothie. Kids absolutely love it too! And when you purchase it, you’ll receive a FREE recipes eBook with mine and my team’s favorite smoothie recipes!
One of my personal favorite, simple recipes is the following ingredients in my NutriBullet:
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 scoop Vanilla Paleo Protein Powder
- 1/2 cup organic frozen berries
- 1 cup frozen greens
If I want to upgrade my smoothie, I even add in the following:
- Collagen Powder to support the lining of my gut
- Probiotic Capsule to support my microbiome. It breaks up easily in the blender.
- Immune Booster Powder to support my immune system and collagen to support my hair and skin and to help repair a leaky gut
Now you can confidently enjoy a healthy, clean protein powder that is gluten-free, dairy-free, low carb, approved for the The Myers Way® and is delicious! You can have the peace of mind that you are including enough of the most important nutrient in your daily routine, protein–what you’re made of!