Do You Need a Protein Supplement?

Jun 07, 2023

      I recently decided to add a protein supplement to my meal plan because I don’t eat enough protein in my primarily vegetarian diet.  An important fact to know about protein supplements is that they are not regulated - meaning they may not contain as much protein as the container indicates, they may not have what the label says, and they may contain substances you prefer not to ingest.  

       Protein powders contain protein from either milk (casein or whey protein), eggs, or plants (from peas, soybeans, rice, or potatoes).  Many also include sugar or artificial sweeteners, flavorings, thickeners, and vitamins and minerals. They also vary in calorie content.  The containers usually contain a scoop (often buried at the bottom), and each scoop of powder contains between 10 and 30 grams of protein.  Some supplements have as much as 23 grams of added sugar per scoop. 

       The Clean Label Project analyzed 134 popular protein powders for heavy metals in 2018. About 70% of studied protein supplements had detectable lead and/or cadmium.  Half of the powders also had detectable BPA, which may increase blood pressure and influence the probability of getting type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.  The Clean Label Project found that plant-based and organic products had about twice the amount of heavy metals as other products, while egg-based protein powders were the “cleanest.”  Organic powders contained less BPA than non-organic powders.

     Ideally, most of you get enough protein from your diet.  Last week’s post (also available as a blog on my website) lists some common dietary protein sources.  Certainly, nuts, seeds, dairy, beans, lentils, fish, eggs, poultry, and meats are good protein sources.  However, if you can’t ingest the recommended amount from your regular diet, how do you choose a protein powder that will meet your needs?

       Make sure you read the label to know what the powder you are considering contains.  Look for a symbol of an independent verification lab so that you can be comfortable that the powder contains what the label says it does and has been tested for purity.  Some independent verification labs include NSF for Sport, Informed Choice, and USP (United States Pharmacopeia).  Very inexpensive protein powders are less likely to have been independently verified.  Also, be aware that too much protein may worsen your health if you have kidney or liver disease. Too much protein can also increase the risk of kidney stones, decrease calcium retention and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

       Many protein powders contain whey protein.  Whey protein is often used to improve athletic performance and increase strength.  It is also helpful with building up muscle. Whey protein is derived from milk, so it may not be tolerated if you are lactose intolerant. Also, some medications negatively interact with dairy products. 

       When choosing a protein powder, look for minimal sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.  One brand to consider is "The Lean Protein," which is vegan and has ingredients that may help with weight loss while reducing cravings.  Other brands to consider include "My Protein Impact Whey Protein" and "Misfits Vegan Protein Powder," which also contains vitamin B12, which many vegans lack in their diets.


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