Which Protein Powder is Right for You

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protein powder and shaker bottleEating enough protein is very important to your health. It keeps you satisfied for longer, boosts your metabolism, helps stabilize blood sugar and can help prevent mood swings. It is really important that you eat protein at every meal because it will keep you from struggling with hunger and a lack of energy, and it is imperative for growth (especially for children), tissue repair and immune function. Plus, protein is essential post-workout because it helps repair, maintain and build lean muscle mass, especially after a workout when you have been effectively breaking down muscle.

While there are of course many whole-food protein sources, protein powders are another good option to get more protein in your everyday diet. While not a substitution for whole food, protein powder can be a good supplement. It’s convenient and easy to take with you on the go - just throw it in a shaker bottle, add some water and voila. It is also usually affordable, low-in-fat, and can be easily added to smoothies, oatmeal, or other mixes to up the protein content. Just be careful when you're making smoothies -- adding juice, fruit, nut butters, chia seeds, etc. can also add 300-400 calories. In general, one cup of fruit, coconut water or almond milk, ice and the protein powder is best for a meal replacement. If you're just using the shake as a snack, opt for ice and liquid only and cut out the other add-in's. 

Protein powder is traditionally made from whey, but there are a lot of other options on the market too. As more and more people are adopting clean and plant-based diets or discovering allergies to lactose, brands have started developing non-animal based powders derived from sources such as hemp, soy, rice and peas. Here are the facts about each type of protein so you can decide which one is best for you.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from milk. It is a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids. Whey powder has a smooth texture and generally has between 25 and 50 grams of protein per serving, making it a popular choice among athletes and gym-goers. It has a low lactose content, but can still not sit well with lactose intolerant people, and is an animal by-product, so not right for vegans. The nutrients in whey have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, protect against cancer, increase bone density and improve immunity.

Rice Protein

Made from organically grown brown rice, rice protein is a great alternative for those who want a vegan protein option. It's hypoallergenic and therefore easier to digest than other options. With no saturated fat and naturally cholesterol free, this is definitely a go-to for individuals with heart disease or whose family has a history of heart disease. Rice protein also provides essential amino acids, vitamins B and E, fiber and carbs, while being low in fat, sugar and sodium. Sunfood Organic Rice Protein Powder is a great one to check out.

Hemp Protein

Made from hemp seed, hemp powder is shown to possibly help with memory because it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Since two-thirds of your brain is made up of fat, hemp’s omega-3s provide the nutrients to help improve your memory and cognitive function. Hemp has a more neutral taste and consistency than other options. Hemp has no known allergens, contains stearidonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which help convert the benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it contains all 10 essential amino acids (building blocks of proteins), it's naturally cholesterol free and is eco-friendly because it uses less water to harvest and there are no pesticides.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is a popular alternative to animal protein. Just be sure to check the ingredient label on your favorite soy products. We are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that many soy products are not actually derived from the soy bean itself but rather isolate soy protein (ISP). The whole soybean is what is actually nutritious and is a great source of protein, fiber, omega-3s and a multitude of vitamins and minerals. By using the whole bean, you get more isoflavones, which have been studied to have many beneficial effects including potentially supporting heart and bone health, minimizing menopausal symptoms and reducing the risk of some forms of cancer. The soybean protein is a complete plant based protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that we cannot produce ourselves. However, soy is one of the eight most common allergens, so it's best to steer clear of this product unless you are not allergic to soy.

Pea Protein

Pea protein powder is a great non-dairy, allergy-friendly, gluten-free, and vegan option. It is derived from yellow peas (a legume), which have a unique amino acid profile. It’s also rich in iron and lysine, which can help lower cholesterol, absorb calcium and build collagen. Pea protein powders have about 25 grams of protein per serving and are naturally fat and cholesterol free.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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