What is the best gut health protein powder?
If you read health news, you have almost certainly heard of the gut. These days, everyone and their mother is raving about gut healthy foods like kombucha, kefir, and kimchi. Both popular media and the scientific community are screaming at us to heal our guts and take care of gut issues we did not know we had. New products full of probiotics and prebiotics hit the market every day. The gut craze, or hysteria as I like to call it, has arrived and is here to stay. That said, it comes with a lot of confusion. What even is the gut? And why is it so important? Keep reading for a back-to-basics introduction to the gut, and a few tips on how to choose a protein powder for gut health.
What is the gut?
The gut, to put it simply, is a pathway through your body that allows you to break down food and absorb nutrients. Gut health refers to the function and balance of everything in this system. When people talk about gut health, they are often referring to the gut microbiome, a collection of microorganisms living in your small intestines. These microorganisms play an important role in digestion and overall health. More and more studies show that an imbalance of bacteria in your gut may lead to chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.
What are probiotics? prebiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that live in your gut. The most common are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. You can get probiotics from supplements, as well as from foods prepared by bacterial fermentation. Foods high in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. Although the evidence is promising, more research is needed on the health benefits of probiotics, that is, the scientific community still disagrees about what the actual benefits are, as well as about which strains of bacteria are good, and which are bad. Some researchers even warn about possible negative effects of probiotics and call for caution and strict regulation. I mention this because a lot of food and supplement companies spike their products with probiotics in an effort to make them gut-friendly. Given the uncertainty that surrounds the role of these microorganisms, it is wise to avoid products like these until more conclusive research is available .
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are foods (typically high-fiber foods) that feed the microorganisms in your gut. They help create a healthy gut microbiome and can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some food and supplement companies also spike their products with prebiotics, which is usually not a good thing. Instead of using whole food fiber sources, these companies tend to use cheap, heavily-processed ingredients like guar gum and inulin. Guar gum and inulin are common food additives, and although they are high in fiber, they are also so processed that they look nothing like real food. For this reason, they are known to cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) side effects (more about this later). It is therefore always a good idea to read the ingredient list and identify where the fiber is coming from.
Are protein supplements good for gut health?
There are two types of protein supplements: ready-to-drink (store-bought) protein shakes, and protein shakes made with protein powder. In order to make a protein shake with protein powder, you have to mix the powder with milk or water. This requires a blender or a shaker bottle, and a little extra time and effort. Some people prefer ready-to-drink protein shakes because they are more convenient, but if they knew what they were drinking, they would probably vomit.
Ready-to-drink protein shakes are full of emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners. Ingredients like these improve characteristics like shelf stability, but are hard to digest and can cause uncomfortable side effects (more about this soon). This is why I recommend that you make your own gut healthy protein shakes with protein powder. That said, not all protein powders are created equal, and many contain the same additives found in ready-to-drink protein shakes! Keep reading to learn why you should avoid food additives.
Avoid food additives.
Most protein powders are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a protein shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon) and can lead to constipation.
In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems, widespread inflammation, and permanent damage to the gut microbiome. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria) and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. 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
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powder for gut health, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
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.
Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas.
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein” and “whey protein” as opposed to “peas” and “whey.” I will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. The problem with ingredients that look nothing like real food is that they are hard to digest. (Your gut always prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation.)
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming protein powder. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are an easy to digest, gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for your gut. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, naturally alkaline, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein.
If you cannot eat eggs, try our almond protein powder. Unlike protein concentrates or isolates, almonds contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and vitamin E. We prefer almonds to other minimally-processed plant protein sources because they are more gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties and can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have IBS and every protein powder hurts my stomach…except drink wholesome!”
Why drink wholesome?
Our gut healthy protein powders are additive-free, dairy-free, and made with real foods, not protein isolates – 99% of supplements fail to meet at least one of these criteria. They are perfect for people with gut issues and sensitive stomachs, as well as for people just looking to boost their protein intake without the processing and added junk.
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.