What are the ingredients in protein powder?
Written by Jack Schrupp and reviewed by Ella McGonagle, M.S. Nutrition
What are the ingredients in protein powder? In this article, I will review the ingredients in a typical protein powder to give you a better idea of what might be in your protein powder.
“If you have a sensitive gut, you need simple ingredients.”
-Brittany Carpenter, MS, RDN/LDN
Most protein powders contain fake ingredients.
What are real foods?
Real foods are foods that can be found in nature. In other words, they have undergone little to no processing. Examples of real foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and fish.
Real foods are good for you, and your diet should consist primarily, if not entirely, of real foods. When it comes to protein powder, the more real foods on the ingredient list, the better. Real foods are nutritionally balanced, and allow nutrients to act together like they were meant to. Eating a diet composed primarily of real foods can lower your risk of chronic disease and lead to better life outcomes.
What are fake foods?
Fake foods are foods that cannot be found in nature. They are either artificial, or derived from real foods by means of mechanical or chemical processing. Examples of fake foods include colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Fake foods are not good for you, and you should avoid eating them at all costs. When it comes to protein powder, the fewer fake foods on the ingredient list, the better.
Basically, because they look nothing like the foods that our bodies are meant to digest, fake foods sit in our guts for longer than food should. This gives the bacteria that live there more time to eat, and consequently more time to release gas. This can, in addition to causing uncomfortable side effects, disrupt the composition and function of the gut microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food), which research shows can play a role in the development of a number of chronic diseases.
Here is a list of some of the most common fake foods 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 I talk about fake foods, I am not just referring to food additives. Most protein powders are also made with protein concentrates and/or isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. Concentrates and/or isolates are listed as “pea protein” and “whey protein” as opposed to “peas” and “whey,” and undergo heavy processing. For this reason, they hardly resemble real food, and may impact your gut (and long-term health) in much the same way as ingredients like artificial sweeteners and flavorings.
The typical protein powder.
As an indication of what might be in your protein powder, I will now review the ingredients in BSN SYNTHA-6, one of the most popular protein powders on Amazon.com. I counted all the real foods and all the fake foods, and gave the protein powder a Wholesome Score, which is calculated on a scale from 1 (not wholesome) to 5 (wholesome).
The more real foods and the fewer fake foods a protein powder has, the higher its Wholesome Score is. This is not a scientific determination, but rather an honest attempt at greater transparency. Too often we use protein powder without thinking twice about what we are putting into our bodies. Now without further ado, here are the ingredients in BSN SYNTHA-6 Whey Protein Powder.
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.
Real Food Count: 4
Egg Albumen, Cocoa, Nonfat Dry Milk, Salt
*Notice that I did not include Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, or Milk Protein Isolate in this list. Although these ingredients may seem like real foods, they are not. Protein concentrates and isolates are heavily-processed ingredients chemically or mechanically stripped of everything but the protein. We will not go into the details, but some 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.
Fake Food Count: 21
Glutamine Peptides, Polydextrose, Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide, Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain
Wholesome Score: 1 (terrible)
Of the 25 listed ingredients, 21 of them are fake foods, making BSN SYNTHA-6 Whey Protein Powder about as far from real food as you can get. It is for this reason that I gave it a Wholesome Score of 1 (out of 5). According to my criteria, BSN SYNTHA-6 Whey Protein Powder is not something you want to put in your body.; although it has protein, it is also full of added junk.
Why drink wholesome?
Our protein powders are not only additive-free, but they are also made with 100% real foods.
Instead of using protein concentrates and isolates like most protein powder companies, we formulated our recipes with real foods like egg whites and almonds. The process of transforming egg whites into protein powder is simple, and requires only pasteurization and drying. Almonds, on the other hand, are just roasted, pressed to remove some of the oil, and ground. These real foods offer a natural and gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Real foods inherently contain enzymes and digestive aids that aid in the breakdown of nutrients, facilitating their absorption by the body. In contrast, protein isolates and concentrates lack these beneficial digestive aids, making them more challenging for the body to digest and absorb. Additionally, minimally-processed plant-based foods like almonds are rich in fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.
Unless you have specific allergies or sensitivities to eggs, egg white protein is an exceptional choice for supporting a healthy gut. Egg whites have low fiber content, are low in FODMAPs, naturally alkaline, and possess the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) among all whole foods. Our customers consistently share positive feedback about experiencing fewer digestive issues when consuming egg white protein powder compared to other protein sources.
For individuals seeking a vegan protein powder made with real food ingredients, our almond protein powder is highly recommended. We have selected almonds as our plant-based protein source due to their gut-friendly properties. Research indicates that almonds exhibit prebiotic characteristics that can enhance the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome, thereby promoting improved gut health and overall wellbeing.
“The ONLY protein powder I buy. Real ingredients that taste REAL good 🙂” – Maddie
drink wholesome is made with real ingredients.