Protein powder - 3 rules I follow as a registered dietitian!
Protein powders or protein shakes are a great and convenient way to ensure a healthy intake of protein when you're in a pinch 🤏 . The tricky thing about purchasing protein powder is finding the right one for you! I get asked quite frequently which brand I use , how often do I use it, etc. To be completely honest there is no one special brand or product but there are 3 rules I follow when purchasing protein powder- which also often apply to purchasing any nutrition supplement.
First things first, as you may or may not already know, nutrition supplements are not I repeat, ARE NOT, regulated by the FDA. What does this mean for the consumer? Well ,if no one is regulating the contents of the supplements companies can make false claims without anyone fact checking them and ensuring safety guidelines are followed during processing and manufacturing. To help prevent misinformation from spinning out of control this is where my first rule of thumb comes in.
Third party testing.
Third party testing companies will come in to the facilities that create and distribute the nutrition supplements we purchase and act as regulators for consumer protection. Two widely reputable companies that I frequently rely on are NSF international and Consumer labs. Both of which asses nutrition supplements by: ensuring what is on the label is in the product, toxicology review to certify product formulation, and contaminant review to ensure product does not contain unlisted ingredients or unacceptable levels of containments. They also asses supplements for ingredients banned by major sports organizations and ensure food safety regulations are followed. These procedures help prevent consumption of toxic levels of lead/metals, false advertising, and inaccurate ingredient documentation all of which are common issues when it comes to purchasing nutrition supplements. Safety should always be your first priority when choosing a product you are regularly ingesting.
Rule #1 key take away - do your research! Safety and quality should always come first ! Look for third party testing representation
You can check out NSF's database here!
Second rule to follow is what ARE the ingredients. Does the product contain whey or soy protein - which is better? Is the protein source labeled as isolate or blend, whats the difference?
When it comes to purchasing a rather expensive product such as protein powder we want to ensure we are getting our money's worth. There are three forms protein can exist as those being: protein isolate (90% pure protein 10% carbs/fat) , protein concentrate (80/20) , and protein blend (70/30). Protein isolate undergoes the most processing to extract the purest form of protein that contains the least amount of fat and carbs vs concentrate and blend that go through less processing so it will thus contain a higher percentage of carbs and fat.
When choosing what source of protein there are a couple of key things to consider. The most widely recognized as "the best" is whey protein (milk) as it is the highest concentration of protein. However, if you are lactose intolerant or vegan this would not be an ideal choice for you. The second on the list would then be casein the OTHER milk protein that is a slightly lower protein percentage. Now say you're vegan or avoid dairy products all together well then we have soy protein which is one of the richest sources of plant based protein out there. Lastly pea protein is also another common source which can be ideal for those who avoid soy for whatever reason. It is however lower in protein content when compared to soy protein. All four of these sources are great and can be apart of a nutritious diet rich in protein so all in all the TYPE of protein chosen is based on the consumer's specific needs.
Rule #2 Key take away - when choosing your protein source make sure its the right fit for you!
Sugar alcohols to avoid or not to is the question, well it depends!
Third rule when assessing protein powders is searching for if the product contains sugar alcohols. To name a common few - sorbitol, xylitol aspartame, and erythritol. Some are artificial sweeteners while others are extracted from fruits. The main reasoning for the use of sugar alcohols is that the body does not absorb them resulting in a "low calorie " way to sweeten food products. This sounds great in theory , however, since sugar alcohols are not absorbed in the digestive tract they are known to cause severe gastrointestinal distress- think bloating, cramping, gas or worse 💩 💩 . Sugar alcohols are fermented in the large intestine similar to insoluble fiber (oatmeal, whole grains) meaning they may also provide benefits to our gut microbiome.
Overall, sugar alcohol consumption can be beneficial as well as harmful to the consumer, it is important to take note of how you feel after ingesting products that contain such ingredients to know whats right for you! Choosing products with minimal sugar alcohols added has been my method of choice. The further down the sugar alcohol is on the ingredient list the less the product contains! (statement stands true for all food product ingredients list)
Rule #3 key take away is to look for sugar alcohols on the ingredients list if you are prone to GI distress
Now that you have the tools to choose the best protein powder supplement you're probably thinking well which products check off all the boxes?? Well here are a few!
Wegman's brand chocolate protein powder