What are the ingredients to avoid in protein powder ?

Written by Jack Schrupp and reviewed by Ella McGonagle, M.S. Nutrition

Wondering what ingredients to avoid in protein powder? In this article, I will cover the top protein powder ingredients to avoid. Many protein powders contain ingredients that cause uncomfortable side effects and long-term gut damage. 


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The top 3 ingredients to avoid in protein powder.

1. Food additives.

2. Dairy.

3. Protein isolates.

Why drink wholesome?

1. Food additives.

Food additives are one of the top 3 protein powder ingredients to avoid. While they may not necessarily be detrimental to your health in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (particularly if you drink a protein shake every day), leading to gastrointestinal (GI) complications such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain.

This happens because food additives are difficult to digest, and linger in the digestive system for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they feast, gut bacteria generate gas, triggering bloating and stomach pain. Excessive gas production can also impede colonic transit, and cause constipation. In the long run, food additives have the potential to disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestines, paving the way for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other systemic inflammatory disorders.

One food additive to avoid at all costs is artificial sweeteners, as they can have significant long-term negative effects. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to alter composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food), which can result in severe and persistent gastrointestinal issues, widespread inflammation, and irreversible harm to the gut microbiome.

Furthermore, certain sweeteners, particularly sugar alcohols like xylitol, are poorly absorbed by the digestive system, feeding your hungry gut bacteria and even causing diarrhea. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom!

Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powder:

acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol

2. Dairy.

Dairy-based proteins also rank among the top protein powder ingredients to avoid. Numerous protein powders use whey and casein, which are byproducts of the production of cheese and yogurt. These ingredients are notorious for causing digestive complications, particularly for individuals with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Lactose intolerance and IBS impair your ability to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products. As you have just learned, when food is only partially digested, it feeds bacteria in your gut, leading to uncomfortable side effects.

making a protein shake with protein powder

3. Protein isolates.

Protein concentrates and isolates are another one of the top ingredients to avoid in protein powder. The majority of protein powders are made with one or both of these ingredients, which are essentially stripped-down versions of food containing only protein. Instead of being listed as “peas” or “whey” on the ingredients, they appear as “pea protein” and “whey protein.” Making protein concentrates and isolates involves intensive mechanical and chemical processing, but I will spare you the details. All you need to know is that they look nothing like real food.

Consider this: your digestive system is naturally adapted to process whole, natural foods, not artificially engineered imitations. It follows that when you feed it anything other than real food, it may react adversely. The long-term consequences of consuming processed foods like protein isolates are still not comprehensively understood. Nevertheless, mounting research indicates that they can alter the composition of your gut microbiota and cause lasting damage to the gut microbiome. It is thus in your best interest to avoid protein powders made with protein concentrates and isolates.

Why drink wholesome?

Our protein powders are free from the top 3 protein powder ingredients to avoid; we do not use food additives, dairy-based proteins, or protein isolates. Instead, we rely on a short short list of simple, real foods.

the alternative:

Protein Matrix Comprised of (Whey Protein Concentrate,  Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, Glutamine Peptides), Polydextrose, Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids,  Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols), Natural and Artificial Flavor, MCT Powder (Medium Chain Triglycerides, Nonfat Dry Milk, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide), Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain.

*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling protein powders in the United States.

In lieu of protein isolates, we make protein powders with egg whites and almonds. The egg whites are just pasteurized and dried. As for the almonds, they are simply roasted, pressed (to remove some of the oil), and ground. These whole foods serve as a highly digestible and gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.

This is in part due to the fact that they contain enzymes and other digestive aids which facilitate the breakdown of nutrients and enhance their absorption by the body. In contrast, protein isolate have been stripped of these digestive aids, making them more challenging for the body to digest and use. Additionally, minimally-processed plant-based foods like almonds are rich in fiber, which supports healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.

vegan vanilla protein powder serving suggestion
vanilla protein powder lifestyle image 1

For individuals without egg sensitivities or allergies, egg white protein is the optimal choice for gut health. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, naturally alkaline, and boast the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have reported experiencing fewer digestive issues with egg white protein compared to other protein sources.

If eggs are not an option for you, I recommend trying our vegan almond protein powder. We favor almonds over other minimally-processed plant protein sources due to their exceptional gut-friendly properties. Research suggests that almonds possess prebiotic qualities and can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome.

vegan chocolate protein powder lifestyle image 1
chocolate protein powder serving suggestion


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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. drink wholesome is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.