Long story short, REAL MEAL is a bit higher in calories than Pure Food and better suited as a meal replacement. It has some different ingredients that offer unique benefits compared to Pure Food Protein Powder. It tastes slightly sweeter and smoother. I use them both regularly.
Most nutritional supplements are just marketing hype.
Some supplements, however, are backed by multiple research studies. You’ll learn about 15 with solid efficacy/safety evidence below.
You’ll also find out which ones, specifically, may help with these health challenges: Energy / Focus, Gut Health, Immunity, Pain / Inflammation, Fat Loss / Lean Muscle Gain, Relaxation / Anxiety
Do nutritional supplements work?
While it’s true that most dietary supplements are complete junk that don’t do much of anything, saying all supplements have no benefit is just plain absurd.
Because there are a handful of health and wellness supplements that have very promising health benefits.
In this article, you’ll learn about 15 of the best supplements that help address some of the most common health challenges (losing weight, easing digestive issues, increasing energy, boosting immunity, alleviating pain, and decreasing anxiety).
Each of the supplements you will learn about has multiple peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research that support its efficacy and safety.
I’m confident you’ll find something in here that can help you.
Click the links below to jump around or scroll down to get started.
*Note: Ginkgo’s effect on memory enhancement has had conflicting results. While some evidence suggests that ginkgo extract might modestly improve memory in healthy adults, most studies indicate that ginkgo doesn’t improve memory, attention or brain function.
Is Ginkgo Biloba Safe?
When used orally in moderate amounts, ginkgo appears to be safe for most healthy adults. Here are some important safety considerations when taking this supplement though:
In certain people, ginkgo can cause headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, upset stomach, constipation, and allergic skin reactions.
If you are epileptic or prone to seizures, avoid ginkgo.
If you are older, have a bleeding disorder or are pregnant, don’t take ginkgo because it might increase your risk of bleeding.
Ginkgo might interfere with the management of diabetes.
Don’t eat raw or roasted ginkgo seeds, which can be poisonous.
Possible interactions include: Alprazolam (Xanax), Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements, Anticonvulsants, Antidepressants, Certain statins, Diabetes drugs, Ibuprofen
The herbal remedies collectively referred to as “ginseng” are derived from the roots of several different plants. One of the most commonly used and researched of the ginseng plants is Panax ginseng, also called Asian or Korean ginseng.
The main active components of Panax ginseng are ginsenosides, which have been shown to have a variety of beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.
Results of clinical research studies demonstrate that Panax ginseng may improve psychologic function, immune function, and conditions associated with diabetes.
1. Improve cognition and focus. 2. Reduce blood sugar. 3. Boost happiness and well being.
Overall, Panax ginseng appears to be well tolerated, although caution is advised about combining it with some pharmaceuticals, such as warfarin, oral hypoglycemic agents, insulin, and phenelzine.
Because ginseng may affect blood sugar levels, people taking drugs for diabetes should not use ginseng without talking to their doctor first. Ginseng can interact with warfarin and with some medicines for depression. Do not take ginseng without consulting your doctor if you take any medications. Caffeine may amplify ginseng’s stimulant effects.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The Best Supplements for Gut Health
GI issues plague so many of us these days (your humble author included).
Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events.
That’s why’s it’s so important to make sure the strain(s) you’re taking have been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.
#5: Turmeric / Curcumin
Turmeric is a spice that’s a member of the ginger family. It’s commonly used in several types of Asian cuisine. Turmeric roots contains a yellow-colored compound called curcumin that has some pretty impressive health properties.
In addition to the digestive benefits below, there is strong evidence that shows turmeric is high in anti-oxidants, which help protect your cells from damage and can help reduce inflammation, pain, anxiety and even symptoms of depression.
1. Relieve IBS 2. Aid digestion 3. Ease heartburn 4. Reduce gas and bloating
According to JECFA (The Joint United Nations and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) reports, the Allowable Daily Intake (ADI) value of curcumin is 0–3 mg/kg body weight.
Despite this well-established safety profile, some negative side effects have been reported. A small percentage of people in several clinical studies reported nausea and diarrhea.
Dietary fiber is a plant-derived nutrient that can’t be digested by your body. This is a good thing because fiber helps move material through your digestive system.
Problem is, most Americans still aren’t getting enough of it from their diet, especially if you follow a low carb or ketogenic diets.
The recommended daily intake of fiber is at least 25-30 grams. Most people get around 15.
A 2019 meta analysis of studies and clinical trials conducted over nearly 40 years showed that the health benefits of eating at least 25g or more of dietary fiber a day included:
1. Lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, many types of cancers. 2. Improve digestive health. 3. Live longer.
If you’re struggling to get enough fiber from whole foods in your diet, then a supplement containing a little extra fiber may help. In rare cases, eating more fiber can lead to side effects. Here are some specific examples:
Is Fiber Safe?
Fiber supplements may decrease the absorption of some medications. Therefore, you should not take supplements within 2 hours of taking other medications.
When using fiber supplements or increasing dietary fiber intake, you should gradually increase your intake over a few weeks to avoid or reduce adverse effects such as intestinal flatulence, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.
If you have a preexisting medical conditions, and especially one in which you need to restrict fluid intake (e.g., renal dysfunction or congestive heart failure), or if you’re currently taking any medications you should discuss the use of fiber supplements with your primary health care provider.
If you have intestinal ulcerations, stenosis, or disabling adhesions you should avoid fiber supplements because of the possibility of fecal impaction or intestinal obstruction.
The Best Supplements for Immunity
Zinc is an essential trace mineral and the second most abundant metal in humans. Since the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly as part of the diet. Zinc deficiency in humans is quite prevalent, affecting over two billion people.
Here are some proven benefits of taking a zinc supplement:
1. Boost your immune system. 2. Treating common cold and recurrent ear infections, the flu, upper respiratory tract infections.
Source: Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc
Is Zinc Safe?
Zinc is likely safe for most adults when applied to the skin, or when taken by mouth in amounts not larger than 40 mg daily.
In some people, zinc might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, metallic taste, kidney and stomach damage, and other side effects. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.
Zinc should not be inhaled through the nose, as it might cause permanent loss of smell. Avoid using nose sprays containing zinc.
Taking more than 100 mg of supplemental zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate zinc supplement increases the chance of dying from prostate cancer.
Taking 450 mg or more of zinc daily can cause problems with blood iron. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal.
The Best Supplements for Pain / Inflammation
Almost a third of Americans suffer from chronic pain–nearly 100 million people.
Prescription pain medications like opoids have become a major problem though.
Here are some supplements that can help relieve pain naturally, without the use of prescription meds:
#8: Glucosamine / Chondroitin
Glucosamine is a supplement derived from shellfish that may provide minor pain relief and help people who suffer from arthritis (particularly of the knee).
Chondroitin is a supplement frequently paired with glucosamine as a combination therapy to help with joint pain and stiffness, and other symptoms of osteoarthritis.
No serious side effects have been reported in large, well-conducted studies of people taking glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for up to 3 years.
However, glucosamine or chondroitin may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin (Coumadin).
A study in rats showed that long-term use of moderately large doses of glucosamine might damage the kidneys. Although results from animal studies don’t always apply to people, this study does raise concern.
Glucosamine might affect the way your body handles sugar, especially if you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems, such as insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.
#9: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essentialfats—your body can’t make them from scratch and therefore must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables.
Omega-3 fats are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and help regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.
There are three main omega-3s:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals.
Omega-3 fats have been shown to help with a variety of health conditions …
1. Prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. 2. Control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis. 3. Play protective roles in cancer and other conditions. 4. Reduce symptoms of depression. 5. Reduce arthritis-related joint pain.
Side effects of omega-3 supplements are usually mild. They include unpleasant taste, bad breath, bad-smelling sweat, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.
Several large studies have linked higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3s with higher risks of prostate cancer. However, other research has shown that men who frequently eat seafood have lower prostate cancer death rates and that dietary intakes of long-chain omega-3s aren’t associated with prostate cancer risk. The reason for these apparently conflicting findings is unclear.
Omega-3 supplements may interact with drugs that affect blood clotting.
It’s uncertain whether people with seafood allergies can safely take fish oil supplements.
The Best (Legal) Supplements for Building Muscle and Losing Fat
#10: Protein Powder
Proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids (the building blocks of life). Protein helps build, maintain, and replace the tissues in your body. Your muscles, organs, and immune system are made up mostly of protein.
It’s well known that eating an adequate amount of protein is necessary if you’re trying to alter your body composition (gain muscle, lose fat, etc.).
Many folks, particularly those who follow a plant-based diet, struggle to get adequate protein from food alone though.
That’s where taking a protein powder supplement may help.
Here are some known benefits:
1. Build lean body mass (muscle). 2. Reduce body fat. 3. Maintain a healthy weight. 4. Strengthen bones as you age.
Since protein powders are dietary supplements, the FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products.
Some proteins, particularly dairy-based ones, may cause digestive distress. People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder.
Protein powders often have gut-disrupting gums and fillers, as well as added sugars or artificial sweeteners, many of which are carcinogenic.
Creatine is an amino acid found in your body’s muscles and in your brain. Though it can be made synthetically, most people get creatine through seafood and red meat. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also make creatine.
Creatine is one of the best supplements for building lean body mass and increasing athletic performance.
Here’s proof …
1. Increase power and anaerobic running capacity. 2. Build lean mass. 3. Decrease fatigue.
When used orally at appropriate doses, creatine is likely safe to take for up to five years. However, there is concern that creatine taken in high doses is possibly unsafe and could damage the liver, kidneys or heart.
Creatine can cause: Muscle cramping, Nausea, Diarrhea, Dizziness, Gastrointestinal pain, Dehydration, Weight gain, Water retention, Heat intolerance, Fever
Don’t take creatine if you have a history of kidney disease or you have conditions such as diabetes that increase the risk of kidney problems. There also is some concern that creatine might increase mania in people who have bipolar disorder.
Many drugs might interact with creatine and increase the risk of kidney damage. Possible drug interactions include: Nephrotoxic drugs, Caffeine and Ephedra. Combining caffeine with creatine might decrease the efficacy of creatine. Combining caffeine with creatine and the supplement ephedra might increase the risk of serious side effects, such as stroke.
#12: Beta Alanine
Beta–alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is produced naturally in the body.
While beta alanine hasn’t been studied as much as creatine, there’s some compelling evidence about the effects of beta-alanine on body composition:
1. Improve exercise performance (particularly HIIT). 2. Stimulate lean body mass growth.
Ashwagandha is probably safe when taken by mouth short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Do not use ashwagandha if you are pregnant. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Not enough is known about the use of ashwagandha during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Diabetes: Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. This could interfere with medications used for diabetes and cause blood sugar levels to go to low.
High or low blood pressure: Ashwagandha might decrease blood pressure. This could cause blood pressure to go to low in people with low blood pressure; or interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure.
Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don’t use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.
“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using ashwagandha.
Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Thyroid disorders: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously or avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid hormone medications.
Possible Drug Interactions
Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants).
Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines).
Sedative medications (CNS depressants).
The following haven’t been studied as much as ashwagandha but preliminary evidence suggests these can also help ease anxiety:
#14: Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family. The leaves, which have a mild lemon aroma, are used to make medicine.
According to several small studies, it does appear effective at inducing calmness and reducing anxiety:
Lemon balm is likely safe for most people. When taken by mouth, lemon balm can cause some side effects including increased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and wheezing.
When applied to the skin, lemon balm may cause skin irritation and increased cold sore symptoms.
Special precautions should be taken for the following conditions:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of lemon balm during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Diabetes. Lemon balm might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use lemon balm.
Surgery: Lemon balm might cause too much drowsiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery. Stop using lemon balm at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Thyroid disease: Don’t use lemon balm. There is a concern that lemon balm may change thyroid function, reduce thyroid hormone levels, and interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy.
Possible Drug Interactions: Sedative Medications (CNS depressants). Lemon balm might cause sleepiness and drowsiness.
#15: Reishi Mushroom
Reishi, also known as ganoderma lucidum or lingzi mushroom, is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its popularity extends to Japanese and Korean medicine, and it has been making its way west.
Reishi has anti-oxidative/anti-stress effects and also has a therapeutic effect on insulin resistance, reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and can help treat a variety of conditions associated with metabolic syndrome.
On top of that, the lingzi mushroom is well known for its anti-cancer effects. It is able to activate natural killer cells, increasing their activity and the body’s ability to fight tumors, and reduces the chances of metastasis, which is when cancer spreads to another part of the body, in certain types of cancers.
1. Reduce anxiety and stress levels. 2. Improve subjective well being. 3. Reduce fatigue. 4. Slows development of certain types of cancer.
Reishi mushroom may cause side effects including dryness of the mouth, throat, and nasal area along with itchiness and rash, stomach upset and diarrhea, dizziness and headache, nosebleed, and bloody stools.
Special precautions should be taken for the following conditions:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking reishi mushroom if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Bleeding disorder: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in some people with certain bleeding disorders.
Low blood pressure: Reishi mushroom might lower blood pressure. There is a concern that it might make low blood pressure worse. If your blood pressure is too low, it is best to avoid reishi mushroom.
A clotting disorder called thrombocytopenia: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in people with thrombocytopenia. If you have this condition, do not use reishi mushroom.
Surgery: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in some people if used before or during surgery. Stop using reishi mushroom at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs. Reishi mushroom might decrease blood pressure in some people. Taking reishi mushroom along with medications for high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs). High doses of reishi mushroom might slow blood clotting. Taking reishi mushroom along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
I felt compelled to give an honorable nod to CBD because everybody’s talking about it.
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a compound derived mainly from hemp plants (which are cousins of the marijuana plant–so it does not cause a “high” like THC found in marijuana).
With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, as long as CBD is extracted from hemp and grown by licensed farmers in accordance with state and federal regulations, it is now legal to purchase.
In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.
World Health Organization
Although research is preliminary, it appears CBD has the potential to treat a variety of health issues, the strongest scientific evidence being for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.
More recently, CBD is quickly becoming the treatment of choice for people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.
A study from the European Journal of Pain showed showed that CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat.
More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims but its effects appear to be very promising.
Do probiotics work? If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, the media clearly thinks they don’t:
Probiotics Are Mostly Useless and Can Actually Hurt You
Do You Buy Probiotics? New Study Says They May Not Work For You And May Even Be Harmful
Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics
Probiotics Found To Be Ineffective For Easing Symptoms Of Kids’ Stomach Bugs
In light of all these news stories, I’ve received many emails asking if you should avoid probiotics altogether.
That’s why in this article, I’m going to explain what these studies really mean (based on the latest and greatest research) and clear up some confusion around probiotics in general. After reading this, I’m confident you’ll feel a little more confident about your knowledge of probiotics.
Probiotics: What They Are and How They Work
Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide certain health benefits when ingested.
How probiotics work inside your body is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Evidence suggest that probiotics communicate with your body through “toll-like” pattern recognition receptors … but more research is needed to understand their specific mechanism of action in humans.
Why Should You Care About Probiotics?
You have around 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).
Providing protection from pathogenic organisms that enter the body
Controlling and/or producing neurotransmitters like serotonin (your body’s chemical messengers that contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness)
The exciting part is, we’re in the very early stages of research about the microbiome and its potential impact on your health. The evidence as a whole is promising but of course there are exceptions …
Which Probiotics May Not Work, According to Research Studies
It goes without saying, but you should avoid probiotics that have not been approved by the FDA. The majority of these don’t have any efficacy and safety data to support them. Unfortunately, this applies to most commercially available probiotic supplement products on the market.
With that in mind, let’s look at some published studies that show which probiotics don’t appear to work for specific conditions:
A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*
Many people can’t successfully colonize standard probiotics in their gut. The probiotic strains tested may not be helpful and actually may harm the gut microbiome following a course of antibiotics.
Lactobacillus strains, in particular, appeared to inhibit the “normal” commensal microbiota. However, several studies suggest that using certain strains of probiotics during antibiotic treatment does confer some benefit.
The use of probiotics could lead to a build-up of bacteria in the gut causing brain fogginess.
“Brain fogginess is very subjective, and different criteria are used to assess this. I don’t believe that SIBO has any relationship to what they are calling brain fogginess.” –Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine at UCLA.
There was no meaningful difference in how long parents said their kids’ vomiting and diarrhea lasted.
This was a well-designed study that seems to show the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhammosus (commercially sold as Culturelle) does not help with acute gastroenteritis (specifically, symptoms of stomach flu) in children.
My Interpretation of These Study Results
What you see above is just a small sampling of studies done recently. “Probiotics” are mentioned nearly 20,000 times on PubMed. There’s been a lot of research done showing the benefits (or lack thereof) of many probiotic strains.
If you’re considering a probiotic supplement, it’s up to you to do your own research and talk to your doctor about the effectiveness and safety of the strain you’re considering for your condition.
While probiotics are largely unregulated and definitely controversial, there are now hundreds of peer-reviewed, randomized, placebo-controlled trials that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of a variety of probiotic strains.
No. I personally love fermented foods. I use sauerkraut, drink kombucha, and make my own pickles. And those foods are definitely good for you. But they’re not the same as probiotics. Here’s how the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics explains it:
More Strains Is Not Always Better
What’s more important is the type of strains, and making sure you’re choosing products with the correct amount of probiotic strains. Unfortunately, “50 billion CFUs” doesn’t mean anything if the strains haven’t been studied for safety and efficacy at that dose (most supplements have not).
This 2017 study found that the amount of probiotic bacteria contained in foods is often much lower than the effective dose shown in studies.
Probiotics Can Be Dangerous
Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events may be underreported in clinical trials.
That’s why’s it’s so important to choose make sure the strain(s) you’re taking has been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.
There is likely a huge difference between the probiotic strains tested and validated in human clinical trials and the ones found on the average grocery store shelf.
At some point, if you use a plant protein powder supplement, you’ll probably hear that it’s “contaminated” with heavy metals and other potential toxins.
You may have seen headlines like this:
“Clean Label Project Finds Hidden Toxins in Protein Powders”
“Your Protein Powder Might Be Contaminated with Toxins, Says Consumer’s Reports”
“Study Finds Some Protein Powders Are Toxic To Your Health”
I can tell you with conviction that after poring over dozens of research studies, speaking to actual nutrition scientists, and reading all the hoopla about this topic online, there’s a lot of misinformation out there right now!
That’s why in this article, I want to separate the facts from myths regarding heavy metals in your plant protein powder and other foods.
This analysis is based on scientific data from peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research studies (the gold standard of scientific research). All claims you see have a source, and you will see a list of all these sources at the end of the piece.
My objective when compiling research for this article was simple:
Find out what levels of heavy metals in foods/drinks are considered toxic / safe, according to the latest research.
Below you’ll find a summary of topics we’ll cover. This is a beast of an article at 3,000+ words, so click/tap on the topic you’re interested in if you want to to skip around.
Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least 5 times greater than water.
Some heavy metals (zinc, copper, and iron, for example) are considered trace minerals that are essential for biological function in animals. But absorbing high amounts of certain metals in your bloodstream may cause serious health issues (you’ll learn what those are in a minute).
Why Are Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powders?
Heavy metals are naturally present in water and soil, which means there are trace amounts in most fruits, vegetables, and tap water. They are not added to protein powders and other foods; rather, they’re absorbed from the soil by the plant.
Crops grown in heavily polluted soils in industrial areas (China is an infamous example) contain higher levels of metals.
What Is the Clean Label Project?
The Clean Label Project, according to its website, is “a nonprofit focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling.”
It’s ironic that they market themselves as such, for several reasons:
They won’t disclose who they’re funded by.
The methodology of their star rating system has come under heavy scrutiny for its subjectivity (more on this in a second).
They conveniently just started offering certification services along with an online marketplace:
In its recent analysis of plant-based protein powders, the Clean Label Project assigned each product a score based on four criteria: heavy metals, pesticides, contaminants like BPA, and nutrition. Then it calculated an overall score.
The heavy metal levels accounted for 60 percent of the overall score. Why, exactly? There’s no scientific rationale.
The five products that received the poorest overall scores were:
Garden of Life Organic Shake & Meal Replacement Chocolate Raw Organic Meal
Nature’s Best Isopure Creamy Vanilla Zero Carb
Quest Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder
360Cut Performance Supplements 360PRO Whey Chocolate Silk Premium Whey Protein
Vega Sport Plant-Based Vanilla Performance Protein
Do I think there’s value in knowing if BPA, pesticides, and unsafe levels of heavy metals are in your protein powder?
But here’s the bottom line: the Clean Label Project stands to make a handsome profit by convincing you that heavy metals are more dangerous than chemical pesticides and BPA (and added sugar, for that matter).
The Clean Label Project “study” is a brilliant piece of marketing, no doubt … it just doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny …
As a scientist, I’m deeply troubled by the methods the Clean Label Project used in its study and report. I trust that the organization and its leaders have good intentions, but their eagerness to warn consumers about contaminants may have caused them to overlook some basic scientific principles.
Lori Bestervelt, Ph.D.
What Is Prop 65?
“Prop 65”, or Proposition 65, is a law specific to the State of California that requires products sold in California to carry warnings about potential exposure to a list of 900 substances “known to the state” to cause a potential threat to health.
Whether the soil is certified organic or conventional, and regardless of whether the plant is organic or genetically modified, lead is naturally found in a single serving of many fruits and vegetables at levels that commonly exceed the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 mcg.
For example, a serving of turnips, apples, artichokes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, brown rice, almonds and other nuts contain measurable amounts considerably higher than the artificial limits established in Prop 65.
Yet these food products don’t have to carry the warning label because they’re not classified as supplements.
Doesn’t matter where the proteins were grown either …
When the State of California conducted a soil-lead-uptake analysis of its own soil, from 70 different locations, they found that most vegetables averaged four times the Prop 65 lead limits. 
In the last 10 years, the issue of Proposition 65 warnings with respect to foods has become an increasingly hot topic of debate and litigation.
Legal proceedings to enforce Prop 65 against manufacturers are instituted by the State of California, private attorneys, or private citizen “bounty hunters”, who collect tens of millions of dollars every year. It’s spawned an industry of opportunists hoping to make a quick buck.
Toxicity levels of heavy metals depend on several factors, including:
Route of exposure and chemical species
Age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals
The heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and nickel are classified as Group 1 human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 
However, in this article we will focus on the four heavy metals most commonly found in protein powders: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
Let’s break down the important facts, starting with arsenic:
Arsenic is found in small doses in many foods and in drinking water and plays a role in some biological processes in humans.
The WHO recommended maximum intake of arsenic per day from drinking water is 10 ug.
The highest total arsenic levels have been measured in the following foods: fish and seafood, products or supplements based on algae, and cereal and cereal products, with particularly high concentrations in rice grains and rice-based products and bran and germ.
Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic.
What Is Arsenic?
Arsenic is found in small doses in many foods and in drinking water. Arsenic has a role in the metabolism of the amino acid methionine and in gene silencing, which means it’s a mineral your body actually needs.
But nonetheless, elevated levels of this mineral are highly toxic and very dangerous, particularly in its “inorganic” form (more on this in a minute).
How Arsenic Can Impact Your Health
Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In utero and early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults. 
Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to human health from arsenic, according to the World Health Organization. 
The WHO also says that preventing further exposure to arsenic by avoiding water with high levels of arsenic is the most important action affected communities can take. 
Inorganic Vs Organic Arsenic
Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health. That’s because ingested organic arsenic compounds are much less extensively metabolized and more rapidly eliminated in urine than inorganic arsenic in both laboratory animals and humans. 
Arsenic Food and Drink Daily Limits
Current World Health Organization daily limits of arsenic in drinking water are 10 μg/L.  Arsenic can cause a number of human health effects at levels higher than this. [5, 6]
A 2010 research review published by the European Food Safety Authority found that the dose of inorganic arsenic consumed from food or drinks that would produce a 1% increased risk of developing cancers of the skin, urinary bladder and lung, ranged from 0.3 to 8 μg/kg of bodyweight.  That’s 20 – 544 ug/day for a 150-pound person.
Based on its testing, in 2016 the FDA proposed an action level, or limit, of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. This level, which is based on the FDA’s assessment of a large body of scientific information, seeks to reduce infant exposure to inorganic arsenic. 
The proposed limit stems from extensive testing of rice and non-rice products, a 2016 FDA risk assessment that analyzed scientific studies showing an association between adverse pregnancy outcomes and neurological effects in early life with inorganic arsenic exposure, and an evaluation of the feasibility of reducing inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. 
Cadmium (Cd) is an element found in the environment from natural occurrence and contamination.
Cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as leafy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grains and seeds, liver, and crustaceans and mollusks.
A small amount of the cadmium in food and water (about 1-10%) will enter your body through the digestive tract. If you do not have enough iron or other nutrients in your diet, you are likely to take up more cadmium from your food than usual.
Cadmium contamination can cause kidney failure and bone demineralization.
Safe daily levels of Cd should be kept below 24-30 ug per person per day.
Smokers have the highest exposure to cadmium with food being the highest source of cadmium for the non-smoking population.
What Is Cadmium?
Cadmium (Cd) is a soft, silver-white metal found commonly in the environment from natural bioaccumulation and contamination.  Cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as leafy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grains and seeds, liver, and crustaceans and mollusks 
A small amount of the cadmium in food and water (about 1-10%) will enter your body through the digestive tract.  If you do not have enough iron or other nutrients in your diet, you are likely to take up more cadmium from your food than usual. 
How Cadmium Can Impact Your Health
Cadmium contamination is of concern because it can cause kidney failure and bone demineralization.  It can also cause respiratory and cardiovascular effects, skeletal lesions, and developmental issues in pregnant women, according to animal studies. 
Cadmium Food and Drink Daily Limits
Safe daily levels of Cd intake should be kept below 30 ug per person per day, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.  The European Food Safety Authority’s Panel says that a tolerable weekly intake for cadmium should be 2.5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight or less, or 24 ug/day for a 150-lb person. 
Individual variations in Cd absorption and sensitivity to toxicity predicts that a dietary Cd intake of 30 mcg/d may result in a slight renal dysfunction in about 1% of the adult population. 
Smokers have the highest exposure to cadmium with food being the highest source of cadmium for the non-smoking population. 
Due to their high consumption of cereals, nuts, oilseeds and pulses, vegetarians can have a higher dietary exposure. 
Lead is a cumulative toxin that affects multiple body systems and may be particularly harmful to young children.
Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
People can become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources.
Experts currently use a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels.
Lead absorption for adults is normally in the range of 5-10% of dietary lead. Children absorb 4-5 times more than adults.
If you eat foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, your body will absorb less lead from food and drinks
What Is Lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and significant public health problems in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries and cities that still use lead pipes to transport drinking water.
How Lead Can Impact Your Health
At high doses, lead has been shown to hinder neuronal development, particularly in infants.
Today, the largest source of lead poisoning in children comes from dust and chips from deteriorating lead paint on interior surfaces.
Lead Food and Drink Daily Limits
Here’s what we know about lead, based on the latest research:
The National Toxicology Program says that there is sufficient evidence for adverse health effects in children and adults at BLL <5 μg/dL. At doses higher than this, lead has been shown to hinder neuronal development, particularly in infants. .
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) says that 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg/dL) is a blood lead level higher than 97.5% of children and no safe level has been established for children … so parents would be wise to avoid dietary exposure to lead in their young children whenever possible .
Keep in mind these are blood lead levels. Just because you eat a serving of Brussel’s sprouts (or sweet potatoes, spinach or protein powder), doesn’t mean your body will absorb the entire 7.9 mcg in one serving …
Lead absorption for adults is normally in the range of 5-10% of dietary lead. Children absorb more than adults …exactly how much more is unknown. 
Here are some examples of common foods that contain high amounts of lead:
If your dinner this week contains just one of the foods above, you’re ingesting more lead than you would in a serving of plant protein powder.
If you eat foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, your body will absorb less lead from food and drinks. 
It should go without saying, but if you have concerns about your (or your child’s) blood levels, ask your doctor for a blood test.
Mercury poses risks to the development children in utero and in early life. 
Mercury is not detected in the overwhelming majority of protein powders, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it.
The highest observed reading in the Clean Label Project analysis was 26.6 μg/kg, or approx. 0.8 μg per serving.
A tolerable amount has been set by the World Health Organization of 1.6 μg/kg bodyweight, per week, or around 17 μg per day for an average weight woman.  The amount per serving in the highest detectable level of mercury is around 4% of this tolerable daily amount.
Most people have mercury levels in their bodies below the level associated with possible health effects. Mercury settles into bodies of water like lakes and streams, or onto land, where it can be washed into water. That’s why fish and shellfish are most commonly associated with high mercury levels. If your mercury levels are high, eat less large fish like tuna, swordfish, and grouper. 
So What Doses of Heavy Metals Are Safe / Toxic for Most Adults?
World Health Organization (WHO)
Arsenic: 10 ppm
Lead: 4.1 ppm
Cadmium: 10 ppm
Mercury: 2 ppb
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Arsenic: 10 ppm
Lead: 6 ppm
Cadmium: 20 ppm
Mercury: 20.3 ppb
Environmental Protection Agency
Arsenic: 20 ppm
Lead: 10 ppm
Cadmium: 10-30 ppm
Mercury: 4 ppb
The Bottom Line on Heavy Metals in Protein Powders
The presence of a heavy metal does not equate to toxicity in the body or harm resulting from it. Like any vitamin or mineral, thefrequency, dose, and exposure defines the poison–remember that most vitamins and vitamins are toxic in excessive amounts.
In the words of –Cliff Harvey, Ph.D., nutritionist, author, and research scientist:
Don’t freak out….the heavy metal levels in proteins tested were low and similar to what you’d get from foods in your normal, daily diet.
With that said, overexposure to heavy metal contaminants is a major public health concern, particularly in the developing world. While we need to be vigilant to ensure that our food and the supplements we use are not exposing us to risk, the heavy metal hysteria and the way it has been interpreted and reported in the mainstream media appears to be mostly fear-mongering.
Pure Food, like all plant-based protein powders, contains trace amounts of heavy metals. The amount you’ll find in our protein powder is much less than you’d get eating a serving of spinach, a handful of nuts, or a glass of wine.
Our products have all been 3rd party tested to monitor heavy metal levels, pesticides, and BPA (we don’t have detectable levels of the latter two). Our ingredients far surpass standard levels set by organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), US FDA, EPA, National Science Foundation, European Union, and Canadian Natural Health Products Directorate. Those test results are all published on our FAQ page, by the way.
I still recommend choosing proteins that are sourced in the U.S. and Canada because the soil in places like China tends to be more heavily polluted.
As a parent of two young children, one of whom my wife is still breastfeeding, I do think it’s important to limit dietary exposure to lead and other heavy metals … the evidence suggests that moms who are pregnant or nursing should not be guzzling protein shakes and eating tuna every day.
Like anything else, moderation is key.
If heavy metals concern you, go get your (or your kids’) blood tested by your doctor. This will tell you if you have elevated levels. Side note: I got mine tested because I use 1-2 servings per day of Pure Food … mine were completely normal.
If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave it below.
Big news: both Pure Food flavors are now certified organic!
Why is USDA Organic certification a big deal?
It means each of our ingredients meets stringent USDA National Organic Program standards.
We now have credible third party verification that Pure Food 1.) Does not have chemical pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate ; 2.) Is produced without the use of bioengineering or ionizing radiation; and 3.) Only contains ingredients from farmers that use renewable resources and conserve soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
Did the formula change?
Nope. We always have and always will use organic ingredients. But now we can put the USDA Organic seal on the front of our package.
If you’re looking for a healthy brownie treat you don’t have to feel guilty about, you’ve come to the right place.
Now, my criteria for “healthy” is admittedly a bit more stringent than most.
So this is definitely not a sugar bomb like your typical brownie. But check out these impressive nutrition #s:
10 g protein
6 g fiber
4 g sugar
And not only it is low in sugar, it’s free of dairy, gluten, and soy … perfect for vegan, vegetarians, and anyone with food intolerances!
Here’s the recipe:
Homemade Healthy High Protein Brownie Recipe
What’s In It:
1 cup applesauce
1 cup oat flour
~1 cup chocolate protein powder (I used 8 scoops of Pure Food Cacao Protein)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or real vanilla bean powder if you can afford it)
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T coconut oil (divided into two 1 T servings)
optional: 1/4 crushed nuts like walnuts or pecans (I used 1/4 cup walnuts)
optional: dark chocolate chips (I chopped up 1/4 of an Alter Eco Blackout Bar for this recipe, which has 90% cacao content)**
How to Make It:
To make your own applesauce, blend the 2 peeled and cored apples with 1.5 cups of water.
Add the oat flour, protein, vanilla, salt, 1 T coconut oil (and nuts and dark chocolate if you go that route). Mix thoroughly.
Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan with the remaining T of coconut oil. Spread the mixture evenly onto pan.
Cook at 325 degrees F for 20-25 min.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours then cut into 9 bars.
Nutrition Facts (per brownie)*:
9 g fat
31 g carbs (6 g fiber, 4 g sugar**)
10 g protein
**If you like yours a little sweeter, add a little honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or stevia to the recipe.
If you’re a clean eater, you know how hard it is to find a good healthy protein bar these days. Most contain some type of junk your body just doesn’t need: dairy, gluten, soy, sugar (in many cases, unfortunately, it’s all of the above).
My criteria for a “healthy” protein bar are quite simple. It should have:
1.) Only organic, real food ingredients, and
2.) No added sweeteners. Sugar should come from only real fruit sources like dried fruit … I don’t touch anything with over 10 grams.
If you want to make your own healthy protein bar, here’s one of my favorite recipes.
In this post, I’m going to show you how hundreds of others have used Pure Food to produce some pretty awesome results.
Whether you want to lose weight, put on some lean muscle, improve your energy levels, or most importantly, feel better, I’m confident the recipes and techniques I’m going to share below will help you.
There are lots of recipes in this post. I split them up between 1.) Smoothies and 2.) Food. I will continue to update it constantly, so bookmark it so you can come back if you need some inspiration!
Without further ado …
How to Use Pure Food Protein Powder in Smoothies
First off, use a blender for best results. The powder will mix okay on its own but it’ll taste smoother coming out of the blender.
Since Pure Food has only clean, healthy ingredients without the fillers, so-called natural flavors, and sweeteners other plant protein brands use, the taste is earthy and natural and your taste buds and gut may need time to acclimate. Start with one serving (10 grams) or less and work your way up from there.
Also, make sure the package is sealed between each use. We don’t use preservatives and although the product has a two-year shelf life, it’s real food, so the sooner you use it, the better it’ll taste. I keep mine in the refrigerator to preserve more nutrients (but you don’t have to).
GIVE PURE FOOD TIME TO WORK
Pure Food will help you feel better and you will experience noticeable improvements in your health if you give it time to work.
I recommend at least 14 days to allow the probiotics time to colonize in your gut. The probiotic strain we use, by the way, has been clinically shown to boost immunity, improve gut health, and help your body digest plant proteins better.
Like any good health or fitness product (and it should go without saying), you need to make a commitment to yourself by eating cleaner and exercising if you really want to see results fast.
Pure Food Smoothie / Juice / Liquid Recipes
Here are some of my favorite smoothie and juice recipes using both Pure Food Cacao and Vanilla Protein:
Some of these recipes were sent to us by customers and others were created by yours truly. You’ll find tasty-yet-healthy overnight oats, protein balls, cookies, brownies … even bread for all you carb-lovers.
Some of these recipes require baking and some don’t. Cooking/high heat denatures some of the nutrients in any food, including Pure Food, so I cook with mine sparingly.
But these recipes are a nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth(disclaimer: they’re not going to taste the exact same as their “regular” sugar- and junk-filled counterpart). With that said, we think they’re pretty darn good.