Are you considering adding a vegan protein powder to your diet, or are you curious about why so many people are making the switch? Finding the best vegan protein powders can provide you with a host of benefits, so let’s take a dive into the top five secrets you need to know before investing in plant-based protein.
They Contain Lots of Fiber
Unlike animal-based proteins, vegan protein powders actually contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is essential for digestion, but most people don’t get nearly enough. Investing in the best vegan protein powders can be a good way to boost GI health, particularly if you suffer from problems related to digestion. Whey proteins can result in bloating, gas, and other discomforts, but the right plant-based solution can often optimize your gut health when whey doesn’t agree with you.
It’s Easy to Find Natural, Sustainable Brands
It’s not hard to find plant-based protein companies that have a mission for natural, sustainable products. But the best vegan protein powders won’t contain any of the additives, chemicals, sugars, fillers, gums, and other unhealthy products that are commonly found in animal-based proteins and even many plant-based brands as well. You should also keep an eye out for companies that encourage sustainability and give back to their communities.
They’re Super Nutritious
The best vegan protein powders will also give you a lot more than protein. Since plant-based protein powders are made from plants, you get a variety of other nutrients, too. Depending on the protein powder you pick, you could end up with an amazing blend of minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and probiotics. Just like using superfoods makes for a great salad, using super-powders makes for a nutritious, satisfying morning smoothie.
Safer Than Whey
You should also be aware that plant-based proteins may be safer than whey-based proteins, particularly for those who have trouble digesting dairy. While animal products and their proteins have long been associated with health risks such as heart conditions, fatigue, and digestive issues, vegan protein powders can enhance your health, energy, and mental clarity. One little-known fact is that plenty of athletes use plant-based proteins and lifestyles to promote better athletic performance and reduce inflammation.
Not All Plant Proteins Are Built Alike —The Best Vegan Protein Powders Are Better for a Reason
Don’t be fooled into thinking all plant-based proteins are alike. Many people that haven’t used protein powders before fall into the trap of incomplete protein powders, which won’t provide you with the same benefits as complete proteins. The best vegan protein powders mix a variety of plant-based ingredients and nutrients to give you the full spectrum of proteins you need for proper nourishment.
And they don’t contain added sugar, “flavors”, gums, or other junk … just real foods. If your plant protein tastes like a sugary milkshake, then it’s probably not healthy!
Overall, there are a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to finding the best vegan protein powders. From fiber to types of proteins, the right plant-based protein can transform your health and invigorate your daily routine. It’s no wonder so many people are taking advantage of the mental and physical benefits vegan proteins can offer. Visit our website for more information.
Are you debating which protein powder to incorporate into your routine? Getting your protein powders from plant based sources instead of whey based can bring a lot of advantages to your health. From nutritional benefits to muscle-building to gut health, let’s take a look at what plant-based protein powders have to offer compared to their animal-based counterparts!
When you get your protein powders plant based, you’ll get a much greater nutritional diversity than whey-based protein powders offer. This is because plants have a much richer nutrient profile, which your body needs to function well. One of the most important nutrients you find more of in plant proteins is fiber (more on this below).
Where whey does have the edge is in its complete amino acid profile, but this can be addressed with plant based proteins by combining several different sources together..
Another benefit to getting your protein powders plant based is that they are generally much higher in belly-filling fiber than whey-based proteins. Fiber is excellent for your digestion, and this can be essential for those that struggle with digestive issues. Incorporating some plant-based protein powders into your routine can help your digestive system to run more smoothly and keep you more regular.
Improve Blood Flow
A lot of people invest in protein powders because they want to improve their athletic performance. This is why some of the top athletes get their protein powders plant based: because plant proteins help to improve your blood flow, which increases healing time after exercise.
Avoid Health Risks
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “The adverse effects associated with long-term high protein/high meat intake in humans were (a) disorders of bone and calcium homeostasis, (b) disorders of renal function, (c) increased cancer risk, (d) disorders of liver function, and (e) precipitated progression of coronary artery disease.” – source: NCBI).
Getting your protein powders plant based can help you reduce your intake of animal protein.
Up to 65 percent of people in the U.S are lactose-intolerant, which can mean major gut issues when consuming whey and other dairy-based proteins. That’s why, if you’re lactose-intolerant, it’s good news to know that you can get your protein powders plant based.
Don’t settle for proteins that will make you sick or avoid proteins altogether—get the protein you want without the negative effects on your body.
Overall, plant-based protein is a better choice than whey protein for many people, especially those with GI issues. If you get your protein powders plant based, especially from high quality plant protein sources like Pure Food, you can count on certain benefits, such as higher nutritional density, improved digestion, natural ingredients, better blood flow, avoiding health risks, and a lack of inflammation-promoting lactose. Click here for more details.
There are many good reasons to seek out the best vegan protein powders if you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or simply a conscious eater. Protein powders are especially important if you follow a plant-based / vegan diet and you’re an athlete or bodybuilder (it takes lots of protein to obtain/maintain a healthy physique)! We’ll talk about this more below.
In addition to smoothies, vegan protein powder can also be used in other recipes, too. The best vegan protein powders can be used for puddings, breads, cookies, and in protein bar recipes.
If you’re an athlete or body builder looking for the best vegan protein powders, here are a few things to consider to find the “best” one for you!
Types of Vegan Protein Powder
If you are looking for more ways to get vegan proteins into your diet, you obviously don’t want to choose protein powders with whey, egg, milk proteins, collagen, or other obvious animal proteins because, of course, those are not vegan.
Even for non-vegans though, dairy and whey can cause GI problems … especially for bodybuilders and athletes who tend to consume more protein than most folks.
Vegan proteins come from ingredients like brown rice protein, pea protein, hemp protein, pumpkin seed protein, and chia seed protein, which are completely plant-based and easy to digest. Pea and rice protein, in particular, are higher in essential amino acids than other plant-based proteins and are absorbed easily by the body, making them among the best vegan protein powder choices.
Who Needs Protein Powder?
If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, it’s generally recommended to eat close to 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight each day.
If you can get that much protein from eating whole, plant-based foods, then that’s great! But for 99% of people, that’s a very difficult thing to do.
Vegan protein powders are best for people who aren’t getting their daily protein requirements from whole foods.
Why Vegan Protein?
The best vegan protein powders contain only all-natural, plant-based ingredients that blend well into shakes, smoothies, and other recipes.
Watch out for hidden junk ingredients like gums, “natural flavors,” and sugars / sweeteners.
If you want to sweeten your vegan protein shake, add your own ingredients (like fruit)!
When figuring out the best vegan protein powders for you, it’s important to do your homework. Make sure you’re reading the ingredients lists and nutrition labels, researching the company you’re buying from, and looking beyond price (because you get what you pay for!).
So long story short, the best vegan protein powders are convenient, they’re “clean,” and they’re not made from ingredients that your body does not want. Read more about the ingredients in our vegan protein powders to see if they’re right for you.
Protein powders are everywhere these days. They’re made with a variety of ingredients, plant- and animal-based, and come in many different flavors. With so many to choose from, it can be hard to figure out which is the best womens protein powder.
In this article, you’ll learn what protein powders are most commonly used for and the criteria we use to evaluate the best protein powder for women.
What Exactly Are Protein Powders and What Are They Used For?
Protein powders are powdered versions of common food proteins (duh).
The most common type of protein powder is made from whey, which is a milk-based protein. The problem with whey protein is that many women and men are lactose intolerant (an estimated 65% of adults!). If you’re lactose intolerant, consuming dairy products can cause issues with inflammation, digestion, immunity, etc.
Collagen protein is a newer source of animal protein made from the hair, skin, and nails of animals like cows, chicken, and fish. The long-term benefits and risks of collagen protein have not been established just yet, but it appears to be safe based on the current data available.
The most popular vegan option is soy protein powder. Unless it’s organic, however, soy protein is made from genetically modified (GMO) soybeans. Other plant-based protein options include pea, rice, hemp, pumpkin, and chia.
But plant proteins can be lacking in certain amino acids and therefore are not synthesized/absorbed quite as well as dairy proteins in the body.
That’s why the consensus among health experts is that the best women’s protein powder is actually a blend of other plant proteins like pea, rice, hemp, pumpkin, and chia. If you blend the right ratio of vegan / vegetarian proteins together, it can result in a perfect PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) of 1.0, the same as whey but without the inflammation!
Women and men tend to lose muscle mass as they age, which is why eating a little more protein is recommended for most older adults.
What to Look in a Protein Powder
There are a few things that you should look for when you are shopping for the best women’s protein powder.
• Organic – The best protein powders for women and men should have organic ingredients. You don’t want to consume unnecessary chemicals and toxins along with your protein.
• Easily digestible – Some protein powders, especially whey protein, can be hard for many folks to digest. For most women, a plant-based protein blend with pea, rice, hemp, chia, and/or pumpkin seed protein will be easier on the stomach.
• Tastes good (but no sugar) – Choking down a glass of awful tasting protein powder each morning is not fun…but the best women’s protein powders taste good and are good for you … so avoid any protein shakes with added sugar, which is the biggest contributor to weight gain!
• Probiotics –The best women’s protein powders are more than just a source of clean protein. Look for products that also give you added benefits, like probiotics, fiber, and amino acids.
The Best Women’s Protein Powder
One of the best women’s protein powders on the market is Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder.
It’s made of a blend of organic pea, organic brown rice, and organic hemp proteins, and it is sweetened with all-natural stevia leaf extract. No gums. No “flavors”. No junk.
Each serving of Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder has 20 grams of protein per serving, 4 grams of branched chain amino acids, and 4 grams of fiber. It also contains 9 essential amino acids, 1 billion CFUs of probiotics, and zero grams of sugar per serving.
Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder is available in vanilla and raw cacao flavors, and it blends smoothly for a delicious finish. Mix it with your favorite fruits, vegetables, plant milks, and/or nut or seed butter to make a satisfying shake. Try Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder if you are looking for one of the best women’s protein powders. Click here to find out more.
Your microbiome has a direct impact on how you think, feel, and act too.
We know that the gut microbiota undergo significant fluctuations over the course of one’s lifetime … and these modifications are frequently associated with undesirable effects on your health.
But, these fluctuations are influenced by several controllable factors, such as lifestyle, stress, nutrition, and antibiotic use. A 2021 study showed “how little of the microbiome is predetermined by our genes and therefore how much is modifiable by diet,” according to researcher Sarah Berry.
In this guide, we will cover four proven strategies for improving your gut health. We will talk about some exciting research that will show you how to 1.) breathe, 2.) move, 3.) exercise, and 4.) sleep better to create long-term, sustainable changes to your microbiome and in turn, your overall health and wellness.
You know that feeling you get when you’re stuck in traffic and late for a meeting? Or somebody cuts you off then has the audacity to honk at you?
These types of stressful events cause emotional responses like anger or fear, which prompt an immediate physical reaction within your body: your heart beats faster, your breathing gets quicker, and your stomach tenses up.
This “fight or flight” response causes blood to move from your gut to the larger muscles, which hampers digestion, weakens your immune system, and increases inflammation.
The changes may not last long, and in the short term they aren’t harmful and may even be helpful in certain situations. But when they happen repeatedly, over time they can cause dysbiosis (when your gut bacteria are out of whack).
The good news is, you can learn to recognize and turn off these automatic responses through deep breathing.
Before you dispel this as New Age mumbo jumbo, here’s some science to quell your skepticism.
For those suffering from GI symptoms, diaphragmatic breathing offers specific benefits: Activating the diaphragm creates a gentle massaging action felt by internal organs like the intestines and stomach, which can reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating and constipation. While diaphragmatic breathing, you are facilitating the activation of the parasympathetic system, which can be thought of as the relaxation response of the body or the “rest and digest” state.
Deep breathing has additional benefits, including:
Practice deep breathing each day. Start with just 1-5 minutes then work your way up from there (I personally aim for 10-30 minutes each day, spread out over 2-3 sessions depending on the day). There are many different deep breathing techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, repetitive prayer, guided imagery, the Wim Hoff Method, to name a few).
Eating for better gut health is a highly individual affair.
In this section, we’ll cover some different dietary approaches that may be beneficial for those GI issues.
First, it’s important to talk to a specialist if you’re having digestive issues to make sure it’s not something more serious. I also highly recommend getting tested for food allergies and getting a gut intelligence test. These two tests will tell you exactly what foods you should and shouldn’t be eating, based on your unique physiology.
Now let’s unpack a few dietary approaches that may (or may not) help improve your gut health.
The FODMAP Diet
FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gut disorders.
These substances include lactose, fructose, fructans, galactans, and polyalcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol, and isomalt).
Clinical trials suggest that most patients with IBS report a reduction in symptoms from following a low-FODMAP diet.
Also, people with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) seem to benefit from a low-FODMAPs diet and often experience a reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms.
But despite the demonstrated beneficial effects, low-FODMAPs diet have generated some concerns, namely:
IBS patients have been shown to have a dysbiotic microbiota, which might predispose them to additional pathological dysbiosis (a gut that’s out of balance that can lead to other health issues).
In one clinical trial, microbiota of IBS patients submitted to 4-week dietary intervention was compared with that of an IBS patient with a habitual diet. The authors demonstrated a reduction in concentration and proportion of Bifidobacteria after the carbohydrate restriction.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) patients on the low FODMAP diet experienced a reduction of beneficial Bifidobacteriaceae and an increase of disease-promoting Lachnospiraceae were observed in their gut microbiota.
Taking probiotics might help offset some of this. According to this 2019 study:
Supplementation of the diet with probiotics could help in maintaining the beneficial component of gut microbiota, especially considering the inverse correlation between Bifidobacteria and the symptomatology of IBS.
The Impact of Ketogenic Diets on Gut Health
Low carbohydrate diets like keto, Paleo, and Atkins focus on drastically reduced carbohydrate intake in favor of fats and protein.
More research is needed on the long-term effects of these diets on gut health. Here’s what we know so far, based the current body of evidence:
A few human and animal studies have shown different results demonstrating positive effects on reshaping bacterial architecture and gut biological functions, while others reporting negative effects as a lowered diversity and an increased amount of pro-inflammatory bacteria.
According to several different studies, better strategies are needed to maximize the benefit of ketogenic diets. Here’s what they recommend:
Introduce the use of whey and plant proteins (i.e., pea protein).
Reduce the intake of animal protein.
Implement fermented food and beverages (yogurt, water and milk kefir, kimchi, fermented vegetables).
Introduce prebiotics and probiotics.
Reduce omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids ratio (increase omega 3 while decreasing omega 6).
Introduce an accurate quantity and quality of unsaturated fatty acids.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
Test your microbiome if needed (analysis of 16S rRNA to identify biodiversity and richness).
Gluten Free Diets and Gut Health: What We Know So Far
What about a gluten free diet? It’s a low-carb world, and many people are pushing grains off their plate in an effort to control their waistline and improve GI symptoms.
Gluten-free diets are essential for people with celiac disease and other medical conditions that are negatively affected by gluten.
But for most people, gluten is unjustifiably vilified.
A 2019 meta analysis published in the scientific journal Nutrients reported that in patients with cardiovascular disease, after two years on a gluten-free diet, the “imbalance of duodenal mucosal microbiota were not completely restored with a worsening in the reduction of bacterial richness.”
And while some potentially pathogenic bacteria such as E coli and Staphylococcus may decrease on a gluten free diet, levels of beneficial species as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus also remain low.
Anti-nutrients: Good or Bad?
Anti-nutrients are natural substances found in certain plant- and animal-based foods that can block the absorption of nutrients. A common refrain you hear from people who swear off grains is that anti-nutrients are terrible for you and cause all types of issues.
The pros and cons of anti-nutrients on long-term human health is an area of active research.
Though certain foods may contain residual amounts of anti-nutrients after processing and cooking, the health benefits of eating these foods outweigh any potential negative nutritional effects.
Eating a variety of nutritious foods daily and avoiding eating large amounts of a single food at one meal can help to offset minor losses in nutrient absorption caused by anti-nutrients.
Many anti-nutrients have antioxidant and anticancer actions, so avoiding them entirely is not recommended.
Why Most People Should Not Give Up Grains
Based on the current body of evidence, whole grains have some unique digestive health properties that make them a valuable addition to the diet for most people. The pros outweigh the cons.
Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says “The main benefit of whole cereal grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley, is in the fiber. Cereal fiber is different from vegetable fiber or bean fiber.”
A reduced risk of colon cancer has been linked to fiber from grains, but not necessarily fiber from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables, she says.
Whole grains have other health benefits as well. They lower cholesterol levels and reduce chronic inflammation, which has been linked to cancer and heart disease. Reducing chronic inflammation inside the body may also help to control blood pressure.
A 2016 study published in the journal Circulation found that people who ate at least four servings of whole grains each day had a 22% lower risk of death from any cause during the study period, compared with people who didn’t eat as much. The study’s authors also found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer associated with diets rich in whole grains.
How Whole Grains Affect Your Microbiome
Whole grains break down slowly during digestion, which helps to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. Similarly, some studies have linked whole grains with a lower risk of getting diabetes.
The fiber in whole grains acts as a prebiotic, which is a substance that helps to feed, grow, and sustain healthy bacteria in your intestines.
One study found that “whole grains, including oats, constitute important sources of nutrients for the gut microbiota and contribute to a healthy gut microbiome.”
Another study published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition showed “Increasing cereal fiber consumption should be encouraged for overall good health and for gut microbiota diversity.
Cleveland Clinic Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, shares six tips to improve your gut health and digestion naturally.
Eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fill your plate with the colors of the rainbow, from red to dark green. Stock up on canned and frozen veggies for convenience, but also be sure to include lots of fresh produce into your meals. Try to add a few veggies with each meal.
Choose whole grains more often. Look for and choose packages that say “whole grains” more often than white or processed bread or other grains. Then also check the amount of fiber the product contains. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving for the most benefit.
If you eat meat, limit the amount of beef, pork, lamb and processed meats you eat. Choose poultry or fish more frequently than red meat and limit all processed meats, like salami, bacon and hotdogs. Smaller portions of meat (1-4 oz.), consumed less often, are also beneficial. Most people don’t need to consume more than 6-8 ounces of meat every day. Try replacing meat with some beans or other plant-based protein for more fiber. One half cup of beans provides the same amount of protein as in 1 ounce of meat.
Experiment with healthier cooking options. Opt for steaming, poaching, stewing, microwaving, braising and boiling over grilling and frying. And don’t forget – it’s important to make sure your meat gets cooked thoroughly before eating it to reduce other digestive health risks, such as salmonella (author’s note: I spent a day in the hospital after getting salmonella … trust me when I say you don’t want to experience it).
Consume foods with probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help fight off the bad bacteria in your gut. They also produce healthy substances that provide nourishment for your gut. Good sources of probiotics include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchee, raw apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic and sauerkraut. If those foods don’t suit your fancy, then a probiotic supplement may help.
Limit foods that have added sugars and animal fats. These foods can produce harmful chemicals in your GI tract and cause major damage over time. Read ingredient labels for sources of added sugars – they can be tricky!
There’s a direct link between sleep disturbances and gut health.
Just as you can influence your waking routine, scientists have determined poor night-time practices and an unhealthy diet can change your gut flora and impact your risk of insomnia.
There are several theories on how your gut microbes might affect sleep:
The Gut-Brain Axis
The connection between our brain and our digestive system is a complex system connected by the vagus nerve. Key signals can be passed between these two, such as when we’re hungry, stressed, or even our emotional state.
Many microbes within our gut microbiome produce serotonin, a key biochemical that regulates our mood. Serotonin is also a precursor for melatonin, another hormone essential to our light-dark cycle that eases us to sleep. If the gut microbiome isn’t producing it’s fair share of serotonin, this hormone flow may cease to a trickle and change standard sleep patterns.
This theory has also been supported by the number of people suffering from mood disorders like depression who also report additional issues with sleep. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan said, “Changing which microbes are in the gut by altering diet has the potential to help those who have trouble sleeping.”
Scientists say our gut houses upwards of 70% of our immune system. When we’re at our optimal health, this “immune organ” works in peak performance like an efficient fighting machine. However, when our body is under long-term assault from toxic substances, invading bacteria, or injury, our immune system can interrupt normal processes and change how well we regulate our sleep cycle.
When the gut ecosystem becomes imbalanced, it can cause an immune reaction that permeates through the digestive lining and penetrates peripheral tissues. If this immune response reaches organs such as the lungs, the inflammatory response can impact breathing at night and increase the likelihood of disorders like sleep apnea.
Improve your diet by following the Action Steps in the Eating section above.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try going to bed 20-30 minutes earlier than normal each night. Dr. Meeta Singh, a sleep disorder expert at Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center says “If you increase your time in bed by even 15 – 20 minutes, you will notice a difference.”
Don’t eat or drink caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep. Cut it out after 3 p.m.
Don’t drink too much alcohol. 1 or 2 drinks a night should be your limit. Any more and your sleep will suffer.
Keep your room as dark and quiet as possible. I have two young kids, so I know “quiet” is relative for many of us. But a room darkening shade and/or a sleep mask is a great investment if you don’t have them. And to drown out those loud kids, pets, partners, use ear plugs.
Invest in a white noise machine and ear plugs if needed (check out the links for the ones I use). The Lectrofan white noise machine is the loudest and best white noise machine I’ve used … we have four of them in our house!
Cut out screen time while in bed. Watch TV, check your phone, or dabble on your tablet outside of the bedroom. Studies show technology in the bedroom negatively impacts sleep.
Spend 15-30 minutes winding down. Read, do yoga, stretch, foam roll, or meditate to wind down before bed. People who do sleep better.
Invest in a good pillow and mattress. Think about how much time you spend in bed. A good mattress will probably set you back $1000+, but upgrading your pillow is a super easy sleep hack. I recommend the Coop Home Goods Pillow and body pillow. They’re highly rated on Amazon, hypoallergenic, and you can adjust the amount of memory foam inside to your liking.
Use a sleep tracker. There are many sleep tracking products on the market now. I have used both the FitBit Charge 2 and Charge 3 with success, as well as the Withings Sleep Mat. All are $150 or less. I’ve heard good things about the Oura Ring too, but it’s a bit more expensive.
Enhance the number of beneficial microbial species
Enrich the microflora diversity
Improve the development of commensal bacteria.
Microflora diversity is indispensable to homeostasis and normal gut physiology and contributes to efficient signaling along the aforementioned brain-gut axis.
Exercise also improves the Bacteroidetes-Firmicutes ratio, which may contribute to reducing weight and gastrointestinal disorders, stimulate the proliferation of bacteria which can modulate mucosal immunity and improve barrier functions, and stimulate bacteria capable of producing substances that protect against gastrointestinal disorders and colon cancer.
Here are some tips to improve your gut health with exercise …
Schedule a little exercise every day. Add a recurring event on your calendar for 5-15 minutes of exercise every day. 5 minutes may not seem like enough, but you will often find that you want to do more when you have the time. And even if you only have time for 5 minutes, it’ll help you create a habit, which is imperative to long-term success.
Find some types of exercise you don’t hate. You’ll be more likely to stick with something you enjoy. So try different types of workouts until you find a couple you like doing.
Switch things up for best results. You need to constantly push your body outside of its comfort zone to create adaptation. The point of diminishing returns happens when you do the same thing for too long and it yields less and less desirable results relative to the work put in. Constantly seek out and try new ways of moving.
Don’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. If you spend a lot of time sitting, changing that habit is one of the best things you can do for your overall health (and particularly your gut health). Stand up and go for a 5-minute walk around your house, stretch, dance, do a few yoga poses. Try “walking meetings” whenever possible. Here are a few of my favorite exercises I do in between my daily tasks.
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).
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.
I personally use Krill Oil, and highly recommend it.
Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Safe?
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.
#10: Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol
Pycnogenol, also known as “French Maritime Pine Bark Extract,” contains catechins similar to those found in green tea, grape seed extract and cocoa polyphenols.
Pcynogenol does appear to possess dual anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its benefits include increased blood flow and improved blood glucose control.
1. Promotes healthy aging. 2. Improves symptoms of knee pain for patients with osteoarthritis. 3. Shows anti-inflammatory effects. 4.Increases antioxidant capability. 5. Improved endothelial function in hypertensive patients.
One study showed unwanted effects of a “mild and transient nature,” such as gastrointestinal problems, vertigo, headache and nausea.
The Best (Legal) Supplements for Building Muscle and Losing Fat
#11: 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.
#13: 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:
#15: 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.
#16: 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 some legit benefits, 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.
The Bottom Line About Supplements
1. Do your homework. Make sure whatever supplement you’re thinking about taking has been studied for safety and efficacy. Examine.com and Pubmed are good sources.
2. Talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement. Especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
3. Listen to your body. If a supplement makes you feel better, keep taking it. If it doesn’t, stop taking it.
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.
So 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 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).
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.
Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis
Lactobacillus and/or bifidobacterium species
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.
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.
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.
Let’s start with #1 …
Clean Eating Basics
What does it mean to “eat clean”?
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, refined carbohydrates, and other artificial ingredients.
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 dairy or corn-based ingredients.
No mystery fillers like gums, “flavors”, and other additives.
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 Plant-based “Clean Label” Packaged Food Brands for 2020
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 plant-based.
The clean eating brands I’m going to show you below contains food products with no or extremely minimal:
Allergens like soy, dairy, gluten, and corn
Highly processed ingredients posing as “natural” (e.g., flavors, gums, and other additives)
Malk: Their unsweetened almond and cashew milks are among the very few without gums, fillers, and additives. Here are the ingredients in the almond milk: organic almonds, Himalayan salt, filtered water. They also have a great almond milk/oat milk non-dairy creamer. Use their Store Finder to see if it’s available near you.
Made Good: Made Good Foods has a line of better-for-you granola products and delicious cookies that are certified vegan, organic, and non-GMO with just 6 grams of sugar and 110 calories.
From the Ground Up: These guys sell some mighty tasty cauliflower crackers, pretzels, and potato chips. Their ingredients are plant-based, super simple, and contain no corn, wheat, dairy, or artificial junk.
Autumn’s Gold: Their grain-free, Paleo-certified granola and granola bars are very good tasting and contain much less sugar than your run-of-the-mill granola. Available on Amazon too.
Italian Volcano: Dream Foods International makes organic citrus juices and natural ethnic foods. The company began bottling juices near the Mt. Etna volcano in Sicily. I absolutely love their Italian Volcano Lemon Juice, which I add to my water (and it’s great for soups and sauces). They sell a 2-pack at Costco here in Michigan.
Nutiva: Great source for organic coconut oil and hemp seeds. Here’s the Store Locator. Most of their products can be found on Amazon as well. I love their coconut manna as a high fat dessert for all you keto people out there!
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.
The Brinery: Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, their fermented products are among the best I’ve ever had. From their website: “People often hear “sauerkraut” and think of vinegary limp vegetables in a can or bag, but at The Brinery, we transform vegetables through the process of lacto-fermentation. Our name tells you everything you need to know about this ancient art of food preservation – we add a natural salt brine to farm fresh vegetables. That’s it.” Love that.
Wildbrine: My co-favorite fermented foods company. Wildbrine now sells sauerkraut, kimchi, salsa, hot sauce, and plant-based cheese. They are all fantastic. This brand is legit … and so are the health benefits associated with all of its fermented products. Eat more fermented foods, people!
Alter Eco: 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 4 grams of sugar and also 4 grams of fiber per serving (a Snickers bar has 20 grams of sugar, for comparison’s sake). They also sell other chocolates, coconut truffles, quinoa, and rice.
Final Thoughts About Clean Eats
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. 🙂