What are the protein powder ingredients to avoid?
There are many protein powder ingredients to avoid. Most of them are food additives.
What are food additives?
Take a look at the ingredient list on your protein powder. It probably contains a number of things that you do not recognize. These are most likely food additives, heavily-processed ingredients added to protein powder to improve characteristics like taste and texture. Most protein powders are full of them. Why?
Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods chemically or mechanically stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.” Unlike real foods, protein concentrates and isolates are missing the nutrients that make food taste good. If you have ever had a protein shake with a chalky aftertaste, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Food additives help protein powder companies mask these unpleasant tastes and textures. In essence, they provide a dairy-like mouthfeel with the dairy. Everyone wants a protein shake that tastes like a milkshake, but no one wants all the calories, fat, and sugar. Food additives make this possible. That said, eating lots of food additives is not good for you.
Although food additives are not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, they can add up quickly, especially if you drink a protein shake every day. At higher quantities, food additives can cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects. Here are the top 5 food ingredients (most of which are additives) to avoid when buying protein powder.
1. Artificial and natural flavors
Most people are aware that artificial flavors are synthesized in laboratories. Many are surprised to learn, however, that natural flavors are also made in labs. “Natural flavor” is more or less a catch-all term for everything that a manufacturer would rather not spell out on the ingredient list. While food manufacturers are required to disclose their ingredients, natural flavor manufacturers are not. They can add solvents, preservatives, emulsifiers, carriers and other additives to a flavor that qualifies as “natural” under current regulations.
2. Artificial sweeteners
Although artificial sweeteners offer sweetness with virtually zero calories or sugar, they are not good for you. First of all, several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may increase cravings toward sugary and sweet foods, which can lead to binging and feelings of withdrawal. Other studies have associated artificial sweeteners with a higher risk of glucose intolerance, which is a precursor for pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Research also suggest that artificial sweeteners are bad for the gut. Most sweeteners are poorly digested, which means they sit in your gut for longer than they should. This gives your gut bacteria more time to eat, and as they eat, these gut bacteria produce gas, which can cause bloating, cramps, and even constipation.
In the long term, artificial sweeteners can alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious GI problems and widespread inflammation. Some artificial sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, can also cause diarrhea because they draw water into your gut. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom.
A final reason to avoid artificial sweeteners is the bad aftertaste. Artificial sweeteners are often way too sweet, and have a bitter aftertaste because they activate bitter taste receptors. This bitterness, which many say reminds them of licking aluminum foil, can linger in your mouth for hours.
Most protein powders are full of gums, which are used as thickeners and stabilizers. Some of the most common include: acacia, cellulose, gellan, guar, locust bean, and xanthan. Because they are heavily-processed and look nothing like real food, gums are hard to digest. As a result, they sit in your gut for longer than food should and feed those hungry bacteria, which produce gas. Gums can also have a laxative effect (cause diarrhea).
If you read food labels, you have almost certainly come across lecithin. It is one of the most common food additives, and is made from either soy or sunflower. If a manufacturer does not specify which type of lecithin it is using, it is probably using soy lecithin, the cheaper of the two. When in doubt, check to see if soy is listed as an allergen. If it is, your protein powder contains soy lecithin.
People avoid soy lecithin for three reasons: 1) it is a common allergen 2) it is derived from one of the most genetically modified crops on the planet, and 3) chemicals, including acetone and hexane, are used to extract it. Sunflower lecithin, on the other hand, is non-allergenic and less likely to come from a genetically modified crop. That said, you should still avoid it because it is a heavily-processed derivative of real food that can cause GI side effects.
This last ingredient is not a food additive, but it should still be avoided. Dairy-based proteins like whey can casein are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production. They 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.
Dairy-based proteins can also cause acne. Dairy indirectly stimulates insulin production, which regulates sebum production. Sebum, an oily, waxy substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands, can clog your pores and cause pimples. Dairy can also hinder your ability to process blood sugar efficiently, which can cause inflammation in your skin. This matters because acne is an inflammatory disease, that is, clinical evidence shows that inflammation occurs at all stages of acne development.
Read the ingredient label.
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.
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.
Why drink wholesome?
Our protein powders are additive-free, dairy-free, and made with real foods, not protein isolates. 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.