You may have noticed, but there are A LOT of protein powders out there on the market to choose from. This can be great as it gives you a wide variety to choose from, however, it can also be overwhelming as you might find it difficult to know where to start to choose a protein powder that’s best for you. You may not know what to look for to ensure you’re receiving the best quality protein your body can use.
Protein is used by the body in many ways. It’s an essential component of the blood, bones, muscles, nerves, organs, and even the immune system. It’s needed by just about every major system in the body, making it extremely important that you provide your body with the highest quality protein you can find.
Protein In The Body
Protein is used to help repair and replace body tissue that has been damaged and broken down during the day. In order for the body to complete this task, it requires a steady supply of high quality protein.
A quality protein delivers more than just essential protein; it also provides amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids. This just means the body cannot make these forms on its own, and so must rely on us receiving them from our diet.
The 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. If we do not aquire enough of just one of these essential amino acids, than this can have serious effects on our health. As I mentioned above, protein is a very important nutrient for the body. Your body will begin to break down muscle and other protein-based structures to secure the essential amino acids it needs when they’re not being received through diet. Now, it’s important to note that the body does not store excess amounts of amino acids in the body to be used at a later time, so you must ensure you obtain the essential amino acids through food or a supplement each day.
What To Look For In A Protein Powder
Isolate or Concentrate?
When talking about the two types of whey protein powders, isolates and concentrates, it’s important to note that when isolates are manufactured, they undergo processing to “isolate” the fat from the protein. This is not ideal as it also strips away many key immune benefits. However, concentrates do not undergo this process. They keep the fat and protein intact allowing you to receive all the important immune-boosting benefits. But the best benefit of all from choosing prtotein concentrates is that they still contain essential bioactive cofactors like bovine serum albumin, which contains glutamylcysteine, a rare molecule known for its ability to convert to glutathione.
Glutathione is your body’s most powerful antioxidant and one of the greatest predictors of overall health. A study published in the top Bristish medical journal the Lancet found that individuals with the highest levels of glutathione were the healthiest and those with the lowest levels were the sickest and often hospitalised.
The great news is that the best food source for this powerful antioxidant is organic, grass fed whey protein concentrate.
Soy, one of the most common plant-based proteins, is often GMO (according to 2014 USDA statistics, 94% of the US soy produced is genetically modified), is goitrogenic (meaning it disrupts the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid), and mimics the female hormone estrogen. These are just a few reasons why soy protein is not recommended by most health professionals. Some healthier alternatives are pea, rice, or hemp protein.
Irradiation involves exposing that product to radiation to kill microorganisms, and ehance the shelf life of the product. Irradiation damages food by breaking up molecules and creating free radicals. These free radicals then continue to destroy vital minerals, vitamins, and enzymes in that food source, reducing the overall nutritional value of that product.
Pesticide residue has been found to occur in some protein powders. Laboratory studies have found that pesticides can cause health problems like birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time. However, further studies have shown that by switching over to eating a more organic diet, where you consume foods that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, your body can actually flush out those pesticides. In a study of people who switched from eating a diet where they had foods that were sprayed with pesticides, to an organic diet, they were able to reduce detectable pesticide residue levels in their body by more than 80% in just 1 week! And this was from eating a diet of at least 80% organic foods.
Buy buying organic you protect yourself from toxic pesticide residue, and it guarantees that your food is not genetically modified and has not lost its nutritional value due to irradiation. In fact, according to the USDA’s Organic Production and Handling Standards, the term ‘organic’ requires that a food be free of potentially harmful or toxic pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilisers, and genetically modified organisms. The organic seal also guarantees that your food has not been processed using irradiation, chemical food additives, or industrial solvents.
Heavy Metal Tested
Now who would have thought heavy metals would be something you would find in protein powders! Unfortunately, for quite some powders available on the market, this is the case. Plant-based protein powders may have higher contamination levels because plants (like rice) are especially prone to absorbing heavy metals from soil. The two most common heavy metals found in protein powders include lead and arsenic.
So regardless of the protein powder that you use, it’s important that you look for protein powders that have “Heavy Metal Tested” written on the packaging, or, if it is not listed, ask for the manufacturer’s Heavy Metal Toxicity Report. It will give you the lab analysis for the levels of heavy metals that were found in that protein powder and determine whether that powder had safe levels in it or not. High levels of cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic have been found in many protein powder products on the market.
Look for protein powders that haven’t been denatured in any way. By purchasing powders that are non-denatured, it means they were created by using low temperature, alcohol, acid and hexane gas free processing.
When sourcing a high quality plant protein powder, opt for one that has been sprouted. Sprouting mimics the natural germination process of the seed, nut, grain, or legume which in turn deactivates harmful antinutrients like phytates, oxalates, lectins, and trypsin inhibitors. These prevent the proper absorption of important micronutrients in the digestive system and can actually damage the intestinal lining on their way through your digestive tract.
I personally opt for protein powders that are gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that is predominantly found in wheat (among other grains). It is estimated that approximately 30-50% of the population has a gluten sensitivity. To give a quick overview, overtime we have gentically modified our wheat, especially in Australia, to create a type of dwarf wheat that has more gluten in it than wheat grown around 100 years ago. Lectins and gluten work together to give your digestive system a difficult time. And they’re one of the causes for the condition Leaky Gut Syndrome. Therefore, by limiting how much gluten you receive, you can help prevent this condition from arising.
Ingredients To Avoid
Do your best to avoid a protein powder containing the following ingredients:
- Artificial colours
- Artificial flavours
- Artificial sweeteners
- Soy lecithin
If your looking for a place to start, I’ll share with you the two protein powders that I use. I’m vegan so I choose to use plant protein powders. If you aren’t and would like a suggestion of a great whey protein powder to use, IN.POWER whey protein is a great one. It contains glutathione, it’s certified organic; grass fed with year-round access to pasture; Non-GMO Project Verified; and American Humane Certified. Plus it contains healthy fats, like CLA and omega-3s, as well as other health-enhancing benefits.
Now, the protein powders I use include IN.POWER plant protein, which is non-GMO, organic, and combines plant-based proteins to create a complete amino acid profile. The other protein powder I have been using recently is Amazonia Raw plant protein powder.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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What protein powder to you use? Do you have any other suggestions on what you look for in a protein powder? Please feel free to share them below.
Have a beautiful day!
Jayson Calton, PhD, Mira Calton, CN. The Micronutrient Miracle. Victoria: Nero, 2015. Print.