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.
So with that said, I can tell you with conviction that I have spent countless hours reading labels, poring over nutrition research studies and articles, and dropping half my paychecks at Whole Foods in search of the healthiest “clean” products on the market that meet my dietary restrictions (I’m allergic to dairy and corn and avoid most products with gluten and soy too).
In this post, I will share my findings with you. You’ll discover:
1) What clean eating actually means.
2) How to spot and avoid brands posing as “clean.”
3) My 10 favorite clean eating packaged foods.
Plus as a bonus, I’ll share my clean eating grocery checklist with you.
I’ll be the first to admit that the term clean eating is ambiguous … enough to elicit some scathing reactions.
Like this response from one of the top writers on Quora:
It’s a vague term for faddish eating, mostly with an orthorexic bent. It has no scientific basis and, like pretty much all food fads, is rooted in a fear of modernity.
And this one from a registered dietitian published in the British Medical Journal:
The command to eat cleanly implies that everyone else is filthy, being careless with their bodies and lives. It comes with promises of energy boosts, glowing skin, spirituality, purity, and possibly immortality. But this nonsense is all based on a loose interpretation of facts and a desire to make the pursuit of wellbeing an obsessive, full time occupation.
I disagree with both and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
First, here’s my definition of clean eating:
A whole food, plant-focused diet that’s low in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
The body of evidence that supports the health benefits of eating this way is enormous. So maybe eating “clean” is just another label … but it’s one that I believe can be of real, tangible benefit to people who don’t know how to eat healthy (or who do but aspire to eat better).
What’s the harm in that?
To me, there are bigger fish to fry anyway …
The real problem with clean eating
One of the underlying reasons for much of the aforementioned ambiguity and debate is Big Food coming in and slapping clean eating claims on all types of unhealthy packaged foods.
For example, some of my competitors in the protein powder industry sell sugar sweetened beverages to children that are marketed as clean and “all-natural”.
In addition to added sugar or artificial sugar, many so-called “clean” products on the market contain mystery ingredients and fillers like gums and “natural flavors,” which are now the fourth most common ingredient on food labels.
It should come as no surprise that those clever food product marketers have found ways to exploit the “all-natural” and “clean” claims, since the FDA doesn’t regulate use of these terms.
So how do you know what’s clean and what’s not?
Well, clearly “clean” is open to interpretation. But here’s what I look for:
Organic ingredients I recognize as whole, real foods.
No added sugar.
No refined white flour.
No mystery ingredients like gums, “flavors”, and other additives that you know nothing about.
If you stick with products that meet those criteria, it’s hard to go wrong.
When in doubt, the ingredients and nutrition facts label are the two objective sources of truth on any packaged food product.
If you don’t know what something is, don’t buy it until you research the safety of the ingredients. Check out credible sources that back their claims with peer-reviewed science (like the EWG, CSPI and Pubmed).
10 Best Clean Eating Packaged Food Brands for 2018
I’m not saying you need to be a vegetarian or vegan to eat clean. But the focus on my clean eating approach is plants … because 99.9% of us can benefit from eating more of them.
The clean eating food list I’m going to show you below contains foods with no:
Allergens like soy, dairy, gluten, and corn
Highly processed ingredients posing as “natural” (e.g., flavors, gums, and other additives)
Eden Organic: I love their organic canned beans and tomatoes. They have some solid clean eating recipes on their website too. Eden was one of the first companies to use BPA-free cans too! Many of their products are now available on Amazon.
Malk: Their unsweetened almond and cashew milk are the only ones I have found without gums, fillers, and additives. Here are the ingredients in the almond milk: organic almonds, Himalayan salt, filtered water. Use their Store Finder to see if it’s available near you.
Simply Organic: Seasonings and spices without fillers and other junk. Their recipes page has some tasty-looking ideas.
Bragg Organic: Bragg apple cider vinegar, “liquid aminos” (non-GMO, lower sodium soy sauce), coconut aminos (soy free), and nutritional yeast are staples in my clean eating recipes.
Bob’s Red Mill: They sell a variety of whole grain flours and baking products. I love their organic rolled oats. You can get most of their products on Amazon.
Trader Joe’s: TJ’s is a great place to stock up on nuts, seeds, healthy oils, fresh and frozen produce, and organic, gluten-free, non-GMO grains and pasta. Try the Organic Brown Rice and Quinoa Fusilli Pasta.
Banza: Love their chickpea pasta, which is gluten free, high in protein, and delicious. Available on Amazon too.
Alter Eco: Ok, this one has a little added sugar … but if you’re driving yourself insane trying to eat clean 24/7, this is a guilt-free indulgence to help satisfy those sweet cravings in a responsible manner. 😉 Alter Eco’s dark blackout chocolate is dairy-free, has 4 simple, organic ingredients, and contains 85% cacao for a healthy dose of antioxidants. It has just 6 grams of sugar per serving (a Snickers bar has 20 grams of sugar, for comparison’s sake). They also sell other chocolates, coconut truffles, quinoa, and rice.
Hopefully this provides some inspiration and ideas to help you find cleaner products. It hasn’t been easy in the past but now you’re starting to see a lot of brands jumping on the clean eating bandwagon … and I think that’s a good thing.
Minimally processed foods with ingredients you can pronounce are generally (but not always) healthier.
If you have questions or want to share your favorite clean eating foods and/or packaged products, leave a comment below.
And don’t forget to hit those share buttons on the left if you found this post helpful. 🙂
Take muffin pan. Spray with coconut oil. Create little muffins by rolling dough in your palms. Drop in muffin pan. Bake 8-10 minutes at 380 degrees. (note: I added about 5 minutes of cooking time since my muffins were larger. If you do 8 smaller ones stick with 8-10 minutes and see if they’re done).**
Keep refrigerated after baked.
If you want them heated, heat them in microwave for 3 minutes at 20% power.
**I made 4 large muffins and ate one as a post-workout snack. As you’ll see below, if you go that route you get a solid 345 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and 19 grams of protein!