Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.
Dear Health Genie,
I have recently stopped eating meat and am thinking of supplementing my diet with a protein powder. I’d ideally like something that would also be good for my two growing teenage boys and my active husband. I am a little overwhelmed with all the options available. Any advice?
A shelf filled with an array of protein powders can be intimidating. There are a few things to keep in mind that can make the decision easy and appropriate for your dietary needs.
One of the first things to understand is the biological value of a protein. One might be tempted to just compare the grams of protein in each variation of protein powder; however, this number alone does not give the actual amount of absorbable protein. The body breaks down ingested protein into amino acids that are then integrated into different forms the body can use. A Biological Value is a percentage of the total protein that can be broken down and absorbed by the average body. So, even though one protein source may appear to have more grams of protein per serving than another source, it doesn’t mean that all of that protein can be used by the body. Also, not all protein is alike. Look for proteins that are “complete”- meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids in the correct ratios.
When selecting a protein powder, also consider if the protein source contains common food allergens, is genetically modified (contains GMO’s), or contains additives.
Here is a breakdown of the common protein powders available:
Whey: a milk derived protein (cheese makers will recognize it as the leftover fluid from making cheese). It is considered a great protein source because it has a 100% biological value and is a complete protein. Unlike some powders, like soy, whey easily dissolves in water. Look for Whey Protein that is rBGH free (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone). rBGH is a common hormone given to lactating cows for increased milk production. Due to its potential health hazards, rBGH is banned in both Europe and Canada. Since whey comes from milk, it contains lactose and should be avoided by those who are lactose intolerant or dairy sensitive.
Soy: from soybeans. It is one of a few plant sources that is classified as a complete protein. It is a good option for those who are dairy or gluten sensitive. It has a 70% biological value, which is high for plant proteins. This value is based on the soy isolate form, which is different than a powder from the raw soybean (which is much less absorbable). However, there has been debate about the safety of the isolate form, which contains trypsin inhibitors that may cause digestive disturbances and phytoestrogens which can disrupt the endocrine glands. Fermented soy protein powder is a good alternative to the isolate form and is easier to digest. Soy is also a common allergen, but some may find that a fermented soy powder can be tolerated.
Hemp: derived from hempseeds. Hemp is easily digested (although it takes longer to digest than most proteins) and has a nutty taste. It is another plant protein source that has a high biological value of 70%. It contains the right ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids. It contains chlorophyll, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid. It is gluten free, vegan, and not a common allergen. It contains all essential amino acids, but does not have the right ratio of essential amino acids to make it “complete”.
Rice Protein: usually derived from brown rice. Rice Protein has a biological value of about 60%. It is not a complete protein, but it does contain all the essential amino acids and is easily digested. It is a great alternative for those who are dairy and gluten sensitive. It is also easy to find organic and non-GMO rice proteins.
Garden of Life RAW Protein: Although Garden of Life’s raw protein is made from plant materials, it deserves honorable mention for having a 98% biological value. Due to a variety of sprouted grains and seeds, this raw protein blend creates a complete protein that is easy for the body to absorb. The extra step of sprouting the ingredients and the addition of probiotics and enzymes gives the digestive system further support. The “raw” aspect means that the ingredients are never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Just above this temperature the enzymes denature, meaning they are no longer active or effective.
Before choosing any protein powder, make sure that you and your family actually need the additional protein. Too much protein can put stress on the kidneys, irritate the immune and digestive system, and cause calcium to leak out of the bones. On the other hand, if you are deficient, supplementing your diet may decrease your sugar cravings, regulate your blood sugar, boost your metabolism, and help enhance muscle mass and muscle recovery. Always check with your health care provider if you have any questions about protein supplementation. Hope this helps!
-The Health Genie
Recipes to try:
1-2 cup frozen or fresh berries
2 cups almond milk (or 1 cup milk or milk substitute + 1 cup water)
1 scoop hemp powder
1 Tbs ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
1 tsp spirulina powder
2 cups almond milk
1 scoop Garden of Life RAW protein powder
1 Tbs honey (or maple syrup)
1 Tbs maca powder
6 Ice Cubes
Optional for more of a shake flavor:
2-3 Tbs peanut butter
1 Tbs Men’s Omega Swirl by Barleens