Written By: Kristi Caruana
In the world of fitness and nutrition, protein powders have gained immense popularity as a convenient and efficient way to meet daily protein needs. However, it's so important as consumers to dig deeper beyond the flashy labels and marketing claims in order to truly uncover what we're ingesting. From heavy metals, to BPA, to GMO-derived protein sources, to fillers, artificial additives, and pesticide residues, the truth behind the ingredients in protein powders is often concealed.
In this article, we hope to delve into these additives, their potential risks, and empower you to make informed choices! Protein powders are regulated as being "supplements", which means that the FDA allows for manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of their own products. Essentially, there's no way to know if protein powders actually contain what they claim.
When it comes to the world of protein powder, there's a whole new world of red flags awaiting. Let's explore:
Protein Powders and Their Concerning Contaminants:
Heavy Metals: One of the most common contaminants found in protein powder are an array of neurotoxic heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. These toxic substances accumulate in the body over time, primarily in soft tissue, and have been strongly associated with neurological disease, damage, organ dysfunction, and impaired fertility. The key to avoiding a serving of metals in your next shake is to opt for brands that undergo rigorous testing for heavy metals.
BPA: Bisephenol A is a common ingredient used in protein powder containers and packaging. This compound is extremely sensitive to heat and can leach into the products that it's used with. Being associated with hormone disruption and serious fertility concerns, opting for specifically BPA-FREE packaging will help minimize your exposure.
Whey Protein from GMO-Fed Cattle: One of the most common sources of protein in protein powders is whey protein, derived from milk. However, it's important to pay attention to the quality and origin of the whey protein used. Cattle raised on GMO feed are exposed to genetically modified crops, which have been genetically engineered in a lab in order to withstand heavy pesticide use. Consuming the whey protein from these animals means potentially being exposed to the residues of these pesticides, which accumulate in the body over time. Quality whey protein obtained from pasture-raised cows that graze on nutrient-rich grass is more nutrient dense and sustainable for our planet!
Soy Protein from GMO Soybeans: Soy protein is one of the most common protein sources found in plant-based protein powders. GMO soybeans are particularly enginereed to be herbicide-tolerant to glyphosate-based chemicals like RoundUp, meaning that they're sprayed with large quantities during the entirety of their cultivation. To minimize potentially ingesting harmful pesticide residues and other contaminants used through the GMO growth process, opt for high quality and organic protein powders that certify third party testing for heavy metals!
Fillers, Gums, and Thickeners: Majority of protein powders contain a combination of fillers, gums, and thickeners for an ideal texture. Studies extensively link common substances, such as xantham, guar, carrageenan, cellulose, and maltodextrin to digestive discomfort and inflammation, particularly in individuals who are prone to sensitivities. The inclusion of these fillers is done purely for aesthetic reasons, as they serve no nutritional benefit to the product.
Artificial Sweeteners: These artificial additives are used to make products more addictive without adding extra calories. Studies show both synthetic sweeteners and flavors having negative impacts on the brain as we eat, hyperstimulating our cells to the point where we begin to desensitize ourselves to the taste of real food. Studies have shown that those who use artificial sweeteners on a consistent basis develop a preference for overly sweet flavors and have a diminished ability of appreciating natural sweetness-- This is part in reason because some of these artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, can be up to 300x sweeter than classic sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been the subject of ongoing research regarding their link to causing the very health effects that they claim to aid with, such as metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.
Artificial Flavors: These aren't just found in the predictable "Oreo" or "Nutter Butter" flavored protein powders, but also in the ones that try to appear more natural. Artificial flavors are commonly used in protein powders to mimic natural flavors and enhance taste, however they carry a variety of serious concerns. Artificial flavors in their very nature are lab-created compounds, loaded with synthetic fillers and undisclosed ingredients. Studies continue to show that the consumption of artificially-sweetened protein powders will eventually lead to a reliance on strong artificial tastes, contributing to a preference for these overly sweet and artificially enhanced flavors.
Seed Oils: Seed oils such as soybean, canola, sunflower, and safflower oil are sometimes used in protein powders as a source of fat and to enhance creaminess in the finished product. These oils in particular are highly imbalanced in omega-6 fats, which are necessary for a healthy body, but only when balanced with the proper intake of omega-3 fats. Studies show an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 fats being associated with chronic inflammation and a variety of health concerns, including heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic disorders. The seed oils used in protein powders are also derived from GMO crops and have undergone extensive processing through chemical extraction, bleaching, and deodorizing. This processing leads to the formation of harmful oxidative compounds, which store in the body when ingested. These oxidative compounds, also known as "free radicals", are also known to be the catalyst for cancer growth.
When it comes to protein powders, being aware of common hidden ingredients is key for making informed choices. Staying away from brands that choose to utilize GMO protein, fillers, artificial ingredients, neglect to share third party test results, or use BPA-laden containers is the key to safeguarding your health. Remember, just because a product says that it's good for you doesn't mean that it is. Opting for protein powders sourced from certified organic, non-GMO, and pasture-raised animals can help minimize your exposure to contaminants and promote a more nutrient-dense and environmentally-friendly choice. Reading labels, researching brands, and seeking that third-party certification for purity can provide valuable insights into the quality and integrity of the protein powder you choose. Choose wisely, and as always, prioritize quality!
PROTEIN POWDERS TO STAY AWAY FROM:
According to a report from Consumer Reports, these protein powders tested highest for heavy metals and other contaminants:
- Garden of Life Organic Shake & Meal Replacement Chocolate Cacao Raw Organic Meal
- Nature's Best Isopure Creamy Vanilla Zero Carb
- Quest Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder
- 360Cut Performance Supplements 360PRO Whey Chocolate Silk Premium Whey Protein
- Vega Sport Plant-Based Vanilla Performance Protein
CLEAN PROTEIN POWDERS TO SWAP FOR:
These clean protein options are sustainably sourced, include only clean ingredients, and offer third-party purity testing, for more information follow us on Instagram @thefreedomguide!
- Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder
- Sunwarrior Protein Warrior Blend
- Ora Plant-based Superfood Protein
- Naked Pea Protein
- AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Protein
- Vivo Sport Perform Raw Plant Protein
- Pure Food Vanilla Plant Protein
- Naked Whey Protein
- Promix Grass-Fed Whey Protein
- John's Killer Protein Powder
- Puori Plant Protein Booster
- Vital Performance Protein Powder
- Truvani Protein Powder
- Orgain Protein Powder
- Four Sigmatic Plant-based Protein Powder
- Primal Kitchen Collagen Fuel