What’s Really in Your Protein Powder?
July 22nd, 2019
You really are what you eat (and digest!) and we should all be eating plenty of protein because our entire bodies are made primarily of protein in various forms! Eating sufficient amounts of this essential nutrient is key for optimal health. After all, protein supports and fuels your entire immune system, your muscles, and your connective tissue, just to name a few areas. In fact, it is responsible for most of what happens in your cells.1
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, a recent report2 uncovered that many of the top-selling powders and drinks contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead. They also contain 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. This can be particularly alarming for those of us with autoimmune issues in which the immune system attacks the body, but let’s face it—they’re not good for anyone!
To help you sort through the options and discover which type of protein is best for you, I’ll 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
It is important first to understand the vital role protein plays in our bodies, so we can truly appreciate why we need to get enough of it in our diets. I recommend a diet that focuses on nutrient-dense and colorful organic vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, as well as wild-caught fish and organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised meats and poultry as your sources of protein. Remember, this critical nutrient supports your immune system, so this is especially important for anyone with autoimmunity.
What is Protein?
Proteins are 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 constructed from this building block. Protein molecules are the workhorses of your body because they perform so many key functions.
They factor into our immune response because they serve 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, and assisting in the formation of new molecules. These molecules also have a role as our body’s messengers, transmitting vital signals throughout our bodies to coordinate different processes between cells, tissues, and organs. Finally, protein molecules form our body’s very structure and provide support, allowing us to move!3
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 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 — we must get these from the foods we eat. The greatest abundance of this nutrient comes in the form of animal sources (meats, fish, eggs and dairy products), yet it can also be found in some plant foods including nuts, seeds, and legumes as well as the foods derived from them such as peanut butter. The importance of supplementing our diets, if we cannot guarantee a daily intake of clean, grass-fed or wild-caught protein is irrefutable. It is what we’re made of!
I do want to add a quick note for all of the vegans and vegetarians. I 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. Now 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 diet that’s high in protein, unfortunately, the hidden toxins and inflammatory ingredients in many powders can overshadow the health benefits. Many of them are low-quality and processed with solvents and harmful chemicals. Frankly, 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 because dairy products are foods most of us should avoid. This is because dairy is highly inflammatory for a large percentage of the population. It results 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 can also contain the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone called rBGH used to increase milk production. They’re often found to have antibiotics that have been administered to cows to mitigate infections caused by 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. It can even prompt your immune system to attack your own tissues.
Rice protein is a common type of vegetarian protein. Rice is a grain, and grains are on the list of foods to avoid if you have an autoimmune condition, because grains and legumes cause leaky gut.
Protein powders sourced from eggs, or containing eggs can be a problem for anyone on the autoimmune spectrum, because 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 for powders is one derived from soy. This can cause an inflammatory response in the body, as soy protein is nearly always sourced from genetically modified soybeans in the US.
Hemp is a vegan or plant-based choice. Hemp is related to marijuana and may have 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.
Peas and Legumes
Pea protein powders are derived from legumes, which contribute to leaky gut — a major culprit in autoimmunity. Plant proteins, such as hemp and pea, can be digested more slowly than animal proteins, due in part to their high fiber content. Although this may not be a problem for some people, it can limit the number of amino acids available for immediate use after exercise, making them a less than ideal protein source.
Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Hidden sugars in many protein powders cause a spike in blood sugar and contribute to inflammation. They also unnecessarily increase caloric intake. Many protein powders contain sweetener substitutes, which are artificial, carcinogenic chemicals that we know we should avoid.
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. On average, they contain 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 criteria:
- Sourced from grass-fed, GMO-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free animals
- Free of inflammatory ingredients (gluten, dairy, whey, corn, soy, grains, legumes)
- Lacks sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Doesn’t include additives, preservatives, dyes, or other toxic ingredients
- Free of 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 completely free of inflammatory ingredients. It has also been 3rd-party tested for heavy metal levels and passed with flying colors.
My 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 a high-protein diet, or simply avoiding inflammatory foods! It contains 21-26 grams of 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 bean, mocha latte, and salted caramel flavors, with a hint of stevia, and 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 recipe eBook with my favorite smoothie recipes!
One of my personal favorite recipes is to just pop the following ingredients in my NutriBullet:
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 scoop Vanilla Bean 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 as well as my hair and skin.
- Probiotic Capsule to support my microbiome. It breaks up easily in the blender.
Now you can confidently enjoy a healthy, clean protein powder that is gluten-free, dairy-free, low carb, approved for The Myers Way®, and 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!