Category Archives: nutrition

15 of the Best Health Supplements That Actually Work

Article Summary:

  • Most nutritional supplements are just marketing hype.
  • Some supplements, however, are backed by multiple research studies. You’ll learn about 15 with solid efficacy/safety evidence below.
  • You’ll also find out which ones, specifically, may help with these health challenges: Energy / Focus, Gut Health, Immunity, Pain / Inflammation, Fat Loss / Lean Muscle Gain, Relaxation / Anxiety

Do nutritional supplements work?

While it’s true that most dietary supplements are complete junk that don’t do much of anything, saying all supplements have no benefit is just plain absurd.

Because there are a handful of health and wellness supplements that have very promising health benefits.

In this article, you’ll learn about 15 of the best supplements that help address some of the most common health challenges (losing weight, easing digestive issues, increasing energy, boosting immunity, alleviating pain, and decreasing anxiety).

Each of the supplements you will learn about has multiple peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research that support its efficacy and safety.

I’m confident you’ll find something in here that can help you.

Click the links below to jump around or scroll down to get started.

  1. Rhodiola
  2. Ginkgo Biloba
  3. Ginseng
  4. Probiotics
  5. Turmeric / Curcumin
  6. Fiber
  7. Zinc
  8. Glucosamine / Chondroitin
  9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  10. Protein Powder
  11. Creatine
  12. Beta Alanine
  13. Ashwagandha
  14. Lemon Balm
  15. Reishi Mushroom

The Best Supplements for Energy / Focus

There’s no shortage of supplements touted for their ability to help you improve energy and focus.

Unfortunately, most don’t work.

Here are three that do:

#1: Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea health benefits research

Rhodiola rosea is an herb that’s native to the arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska. It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant in Iceland, Sweden, France, Russia, and Greece.

Rhodiola is a popular adaptogen, a class of plants can help your body combat physical, chemical or biological stressors.

It’s most researched benefits are as-follows:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce Fatigue
2. Improve Cognition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11081987
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170145
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12725561
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10839209
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256690
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0108416
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17990195

Preliminary evidence has also looked at neuroprotection and lowering symptoms of depression, among other possible benefits (although more research is needed on these).

Is Rhodiola Safe?

Rhodiola is generally recognized as safe but might cause dizziness, dry mouth, or excessive saliva production for some people. Here are some other information safety considerations:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of taking Rhodiola if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Rhodiola might simulate the immune system, which may impact people with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and others.
  • Diabetes: Rhodiola might reduce blood sugar levels, so should be used with caution in patients taking insulin or other diabetes medications.
  • Low blood pressure: Rhodiola might lower blood pressure, so should be used with caution in patients taking blood pressure meds.

If you’re on any medications or have pre-existing conditions, talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplement.

#2: Ginkgo Biloba

ginkgo biloba supplement

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species. Most ginkgo supplements are made with extract prepared from its fan-shaped leaves.

The most helpful components of ginkgo are believed to be flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant qualities, and terpenoids, which help improve circulation by dilating blood vessels.

These are the biggest benefits of taking a ginkgo supplement, based on the body of evidence available today:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce cognitive decline (particularly in people who have dementia).
2. Improve short term memory.*
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22459264
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23196025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8741021
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hup.470020305
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22086747
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10890330
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802920
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22700031
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12404671

*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

#3: Ginseng

Ginseng root supplement for

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.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Improve cognition and focus.
2. Reduce blood sugar.
3. Boost happiness and well being.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15982990
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8721940
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11895046

Is Ginseng Safe?

  • 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).

Here are some supplements that can offer relief:

#4: Probiotics

best probiotic supplements

I wrote about probiotics in my post Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says.

Here are the biggest takeaways from that article:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better. What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

With that in mind, here are some strains that do appear to work for GI health:

BenefitsEvidence
1. L. acidophilus produces a number of powerful antimicrobial compounds in the gut that can inhibit the growth and toxin producing capabilities of some 23 known disease-causing pathogens.

2. Bifidobacteria consume old fecal matter, have the ability to remove cancer-forming enzymes, and protect against the formation of liver, colon, and mammary gland tumors.

3. L. salivarius helps digest foods for a healthy intestinal tract and makes vital nutrients more assimilable.

4. L. plantarum has the ability to eliminate thousands of species of pathogenic bacteria (such as E. coli).

5. B. coagulans appears to help alleviate abdominal pain and diarrhea in IBS patients, decrease gas, and improve bowel movements.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700768/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539293/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908950/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031164/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29409331
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30141154
https://bmcgastroenterol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-230X-9-85
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09168451.2014.972331

Are Probiotics Safe?

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events.

That’s why’s it’s so important to make sure the strain(s) you’re taking have been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

#5: Turmeric / Curcumin

turmeric curcumin health benefits

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.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Relieve IBS
2. Aid digestion
3. Ease heartburn
4. Reduce gas and bloating
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882399/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553098/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731878/

Is Turmeric Safe?

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.

#6: Fiber

foods high in fiber

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:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, many types of cancers.
2. Improve digestive health.
3. Live longer.
https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l159
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25552267

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

#7: Zinc

is zinc good 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:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Boost your immune system.
2. Treating common cold and recurrent ear infections, the flu, upper respiratory tract infections.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636409/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Zinc

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–6 months2 mg2 mg
7–12 months3 mg
3 mg
1–3 years3 mg
3 mg
4–8 years5 mg
5 mg
9–13 years
8 mg
8 mg
14–18 years
11 mg
9 mg
12 mg
13 mg
19+ years
11 mg
8 mg11 mg
12 mg

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 chondroiton for joint pain

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.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Decrease pain.
2. Lessen arthritis symptoms.
3. Reduce collagen degradation.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11279782
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265490
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12860572
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12374520
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19724889
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29980200

Are Glucosamine / Chondroitin Safe?

  • 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 acid supplement health

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fats—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 …

BenefitsEvidence
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.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975919
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150191/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21903025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295086/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26387397
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187

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.

The Best (Legal) Supplements for Building Muscle and Losing Fat

#10: Protein Powder

protein powder plant

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:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Build lean body mass (muscle).
2. Reduce body fat.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
4. Strengthen bones as you age.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25926512
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777747/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25628520
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907525/

Protein Powder Side Effects

  • 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.

Find out how to pick the best protein powder for you with this free guide.


#11: Creatine

does creatine build muscle

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 …

BenefitsEvidence
1. Increase power and anaerobic running capacity.
2. Build lean mass.
3. Decrease fatigue.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12945830
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636102
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11677005
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19387386
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17194255

Is Creatine Safe?

  • When used orally at appropriate doses, creatine is likely safe to take for up to five years. However, there is concern that creatine taken in high doses is possibly unsafe and could damage the liver, kidneys or heart.
  • Creatine can cause: Muscle cramping, Nausea, Diarrhea, Dizziness, Gastrointestinal pain, Dehydration, Weight gain, Water retention, Heat intolerance, Fever
  • Don’t take creatine if you have a history of kidney disease or you have conditions such as diabetes that increase the risk of kidney problems. There also is some concern that creatine might increase mania in people who have bipolar disorder.
  • Many drugs might interact with creatine and increase the risk of kidney damage. Possible drug interactions include: Nephrotoxic drugs, Caffeine and Ephedra. Combining caffeine with creatine might decrease the efficacy of creatine. Combining caffeine with creatine and the supplement ephedra might increase the risk of serious side effects, such as stroke.

#12: Beta Alanine

Beta alanine muscle growth

Betaalanine 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:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Improve exercise performance (particularly HIIT).
2. Stimulate lean body mass growth.
https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19210788
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313163/

Is Beta Alanine Safe?

  • Beta-alanine may interact with some heart medications and with drugs for erectile dysfunction.
  • Its safety has not been established for children, people with particular diseases or conditions, or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Err on the safe side and talk to your doctor before you take beta-alanine.

The Best Supplements for Anxiety, Relaxation, and Sleep

#13: Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha benefits

Ashwagandha is a plant that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

It’s one of the most effective adaptogens and may also provide neuroprotection and enhance athletic performance.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety and stress levels.
2. Increase power output.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19718255
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21170205
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26609282

Is Ashwagandha Safe?

  • Ashwagandha is probably safe when taken by mouth short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Do not use ashwagandha if you are pregnant. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Not enough is known about the use of ashwagandha during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Diabetes: Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. This could interfere with medications used for diabetes and cause blood sugar levels to go to low.
  • High or low blood pressure: Ashwagandha might decrease blood pressure. This could cause blood pressure to go to low in people with low blood pressure; or interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don’t use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.
  • “Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using ashwagandha.
  • Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Thyroid disorders: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously or avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid hormone medications.
  • Possible Drug Interactions
    • Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants).
    • Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines).
    • Sedative medications (CNS depressants).

The following haven’t been studied as much as ashwagandha but preliminary evidence suggests these can also help ease anxiety:

#14: Lemon Balm

Lemon balm anxiety

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:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety.
2. Increase sense of calm.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12062586
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15272110
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207903
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245564/

Is Lemon Balm Safe?

Lemon balm is likely safe for most people. When taken by mouth, lemon balm can cause some side effects including increased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and wheezing.

When applied to the skin, lemon balm may cause skin irritation and increased cold sore symptoms.

Special precautions should be taken for the following conditions:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of lemon balm during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Diabetes. Lemon balm might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use lemon balm.
  • Surgery: Lemon balm might cause too much drowsiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery. Stop using lemon balm at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Thyroid disease: Don’t use lemon balm. There is a concern that lemon balm may change thyroid function, reduce thyroid hormone levels, and interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy.
  • Possible Drug Interactions: Sedative Medications (CNS depressants). Lemon balm might cause sleepiness and drowsiness.

#15: Reishi Mushroom

reishi mushroom supplement facts

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.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety and stress levels.
2. Improve subjective well being.
3. Reduce fatigue.
4. Slows development of certain types of cancer.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857210
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22203880
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20518254

Is Reishi Safe?

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.

Possible Drug Interactions

  • Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs). Reishi mushroom might decrease blood sugar.
  • 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.

#16: CBD

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.

And according to the World Health Organization, it’s safe:

In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.

World Health Organization

Although research is preliminary, it appears CBD has the potential to treat a variety of health issues, the strongest scientific evidence being for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.

More recently, CBD is quickly becoming the treatment of choice for people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.

A study from the European Journal of Pain showed showed that CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat.

More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims but its effects appear to be very promising.

The Bottom Line About Supplements

1. Do your homework and 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.

LIKE WHAT YOU READ HERE?

Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says

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).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, or “microbiome”. Your microbiome is now considered an organ that serves many important functions:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Breaking down potentially toxic food compounds
  • Synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids
  • 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:

Strain

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*

Conclusion

Many people’s digestive tracts prevent certain probiotics from successfully colonizing them.

Discussion

Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario who did not participate in the studies, questions the results and urges caution in interpreting data from just 15 people.

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.

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. 
Lactobacillus rhammosus
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.

You can find a decent list of peer-reviewed studies done on probiotics in this article or this one.

Probiotics are not, in the words of the BBC, “useless.” This is the age of sensationalist journalism, folks. Don’t believe every headline you read!

Let’s clear up a few more misconceptions while we’re at it …

Just Because One Study Found One or More Strains Don’t Work Doesn’t Mean ALL Probiotics Don’t Work

Remember, hundreds of human clinical trials have shown that probiotics can help you if you suffer from conditions like IBS, skin disorders, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and more.

Probiotics May Not Always Colonize In Your Gut, But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Work

Some studies suggest that probiotic strains that are able to survive the harsh conditions in your stomach and make it into your intestinal tract are the ones that convey the most benefit.

However, even when probiotics do not colonize in your gut, they still may have an impact on your gut and immune health.

Are Fermented Foods the Same as Probiotics?

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:

do probiotics really work

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.

Lucy Mailing, an MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and a staff research associate for Kresser Institute.

Probiotics Are NOT a Replacement for a Nutrient-dense Diet

What we eat is still the primary determinant of a diverse microbiota composition, which has been shown to be a key factor in people with “healthy” microbiomes.

Exercise may also promote healthy gut flora.

Key Takeaways

To recap:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better.
    • What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve (IBS, IBD, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, to name a few.
    • Taking probiotics that haven’t been studied for safety can do more harm than good.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
    • Do your homework: make sure the strains have been studied for safety and efficacy too.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

And if you’re going to use a probiotic supplement, here’s another resource that may help you:

The Best Probiotics, According to Science

 

*The 11 strains listed in studies #1 and 2 above were Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus casei subsp. paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus

Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powder: Mostly Hype or Cause for Concern?

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.

What Are Heavy Metals?

Why Are Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powders and Other Foods?

What Is the Clean Label Project?

What Is Prop 65?

Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury

Summing It All Up

What Are Heavy Metals?

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).[1]

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:

  1. They won’t disclose who they’re funded by.
  2. The methodology of their star rating system has come under heavy scrutiny for its subjectivity (more on this in a second).
  3. They conveniently just started offering certification services along with an online marketplace:

clean label project scam

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

I don’t like any of these products, personally. 

However, the amount of heavy metals in most protein supplements reviewed by The Clean Label Project are well below the “at-risk” levels. (See “Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury“).

Do I think there’s value in knowing if BPA, pesticides, and unsafe levels of heavy metals are in your protein powder?

Of course.

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.

California’s daily limit for lead, in particular, is 0.5 mcg (or ppm), which is 20-50x more stringent than acceptable levels established by the World Health Organization, National Science Foundation, and EPA. See “Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury“.

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. [1]

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.

Read more about Prop 65 on The Center for Accountability in Science website.

Safety and Toxicity Levels of Heavy Metals

Toxicity levels of heavy metals depend on several factors, including:

  1. Dose
  2. Route of exposure and chemical species
  3. 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. [2]

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

  • 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. [3]

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. [3]

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. [3]

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. [4]

Arsenic Food and Drink Daily Limits

Current World Health Organization daily limits of arsenic in drinking water are 10 μg/L. [2] 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. [7]  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. [8]

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. [8]

Cadmium

  • 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. [9] Cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as leafy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grains and seeds, liver, and crustaceans and mollusks [4]

A small amount of the cadmium in food and water (about 1-10%) will enter your body through the digestive tract. [9] 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. [9]

How Cadmium Can Impact Your Health

Cadmium contamination is of concern because it can cause kidney failure and bone demineralization. [10] It can also cause respiratory and cardiovascular effects, skeletal lesions, and developmental issues in pregnant women, according to animal studies. [11]

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. [12] 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. [13]

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. [12]

Smokers have the highest exposure to cadmium with food being the highest source of cadmium for the non-smoking population. [9]

Due to their high consumption of cereals, nuts, oilseeds and pulses, vegetarians can have a higher dietary exposure. [14]

Lead

  • 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. [15].
  • 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 [16].

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. [17]

Here are some examples of common foods that contain high amounts of lead:

Sources: [18,19] 

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. [20]

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

Mercury poses risks to the development children in utero and in early life. [21]

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. [22] 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.  [23]

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, the frequency, 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. 

Homemade Paleo Protein Bar Recipe (Vegan, Dairy Free, Gluten Free)

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.

Homemade Healthy Protein Bar Recipe

What’s In It:

  • 1/4 cup organic quick cook rolled oats
  • 4 scoops raw cacao protein powder (make sure you choose a high quality vegan protein)
  • 1 cup organic nut butter (I used peanut but any nut butter will work)*
  • 1/4 cup organic pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic dates, chopped into small pieces.
  • 1.5 cups organic coconut cream (or 1.5 cups coconut milk powder and 3/4 cup warm water)**
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Dark chocolate shavings (optional)***

*I recommend organic nut butters with a maximum of two ingredients: nuts and salt. If yours has other oils or added sugar, look for another brand.

**Most coconut creams have some type of gum or filler added. I prefer to buy organic coconut milk powder on Amazon and mix it with water. Native Forest coconut cream.

**I recommend an organic dark chocolate bar with 70% cacao content or higher, 5 grams of sugar or less, and no soy (you’d be surprised how many of them have it … check the ingredients list).

How to Make It:*

  1. Whip the coconut cream until smooth.
  2. Stir in the almond flour and let sit for 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in almond/peanut butter, dates, salt, pumpkin seeds, and protein powder. Mix thoroughly by hand (or pulse in a food processor).
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into a pan or baking dish lined with parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate overnight then cut into 8 bars.

*I used a mixer for steps 1-3 but you can do it by hand too.

Nutrition Facts (per bar)*:

  • 299 calories
  • 19 g fat
  • 18 g carbs (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar**)
  • 15 g protein

*I cut it into 8 bars. At ~300 calories a bar, you can cut it into 16 if you prefer something closer to 150 calories (it’s still filling too!)

**If you want to cut down the sugar content, cut back even more on the dates. To sweeten it up, add more dates or a dab of raw honey.

Best Clean Eats: Plant-based Clean Eating Food List for 2018

what is eating cleanWhen you claim to have created the world’s cleanest plant-based protein powder like I do, you better darn well know a thing or two about clean eats.

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.

[Get the printable clean eating grocery check list here]

Let’s start with #1 …

Clean Eating Basics

What does it mean to “eat clean”?

clean eatsI’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.

Ouch.

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 …

clean eats product marketing claimsThe 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”.

Not cool.

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:

  1. Organic ingredients I recognize as whole, real foods.
  2. No added sugar.
  3. No refined white flour.
  4. 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 EWGCSPI 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:

  • Added sugar
  • Artificial ingredients
  • Allergens like soy, dairy, gluten, and corn
  • Animal products
  • 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.

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.

Nature’s Intent: This is my go-to source for organic chia seeds. I get mine in bulk at Costco or Amazon.

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.

Clean Eating Shopping List

These are the staples I stock up on every week:

clean eating foods list
Get the printable version of the clean eating checklist here

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. 🙂

Benefits of Protein Powder

Even mentioning the words protein powder can stir up heated debates among doctors, nutritionists, athletes, vegan/vegetarians, and everyone in between.

Protein powder, some say, is a magic bullet that can help you look like this if you’re a man …

benefits of protein powder

Or this if you’re a woman:

best protein shake for women

In this article, I’ll dispel the myths and misconceptions … and break down the latest and greatest science of protein powder. I’ll  answer your most common questions I get on the topic, such as:

  • What exactly is protein powder
  • How is it made?
  • How much protein do you need?
  • Do you really need a protein powder supplement to lose weight and/or gain muscle?
  • How/when should you consume protein powders for optimal health?
  • What are the benefits and risks of various types of protein powder sources?
  • How do you choose the best one for you?

Without further ado, let us begin …

What Is Protein and 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.

Protein powder is a powdered form of protein (duh).

What Happens When You Eat Protein

When you eat protein, your stomach uses its acid and enzymes to break it down into those “building blocks” we talked about (amino acids).

what are bcaasThe most important of the amino acids for building lean muscle and losing fat are called BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids.

Together, the three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) account for as much as 33% of muscle tissue. Here’s a brief overview of each: 

  1. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid that helps your body synthesize protein.
  2. Isoleucine is a BCAA that can help your body regulate blood sugar levels and ensure your muscle cells are metabolizing sugar (instead of fat cells).
  3. Valine is the least important BCAA for body composition (it’s also the least-studied).

Protein powders can come from plant or animal sources, each having a different make-up of amino acids.

Different Types of Protein Powders (and Their Benefits and Risks)

There’s some intriguing science about the most common types of protein powder sources that we’ll explore a bit further …

Whey Protein

whey protein powder safetyAs mentioned, whey protein has been studied more than any other protein powder. A quick search of “whey protein powder” on PubMed brings up close to 400 studies to date.

While you can certainly find studies like this one that showed no link between whey protein and body composition, the overall body of evidence seems to suggest that whey works for building muscle. 

A meta analysis (a review of a group of studies) published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at 14 clinical studies including a total of 626 adults and concluded that whey protein powder has favorable effects on body composition (and is even more effective when combined with resistance training).

However, there are some side effects associated with whey protein, particularly for those with sensitivities and allergies to dairy.

And one study found that high protein diets from animal-based sources may lead to kidney disease. The researchers cautioned against eating too much protein from animal sources like whey.

Casein Protein

Casein is a slower digesting form of milk-based protein. Casein is often marketed as a “superior” protein source.

However, one study showed that casein did not have any noticeable differences on body composition, strength, and power and agility compared to whey.

Casein has a few major flaws as a protein source too. This study found that it promotes the growth of prostate cancer cells.  And since it’s milk-based, it’s probably not a good choice if you’re sensitive to dairy.

Brown Rice Protein

brown rice protein woman weight lossRice protein is a plant-based protein powder used by vegans, vegetarians, and people who can’t tolerate dairy products like whey and casein. In one study published in the journal Nutrition, researchers found that rice protein had similar effects on body composition as whey.

In other words, there was no difference between the group of subjects that took rice protein and the one that took whey protein; both experienced positive body composition changes.

One of the main complaints you’ll hear about rice protein is it’s high in potentially toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

While it’s true consuming high amounts of some of these metals can lead to negative health effects, heavy metals are in all plants that grow in soil. Here’s a quote from Jon Barron’s well researched article on the topic:

In summary, don’t have a knee jerk reaction to the label “heavy metals.” (Both calcium and iron are technically heavy metals.) Yes, obviously, when it comes to “toxic” heavy metals, less is better than more. But the issue is far more nuanced than a simple label–or even numbers on a chart for that matter. You have to factor in whether or not the element actually has any “proven” toxicity (tungsten has no demonstrated toxicity), whether it’s organic or inorganic (organic arsenic is virtually ignored by the body), and whether it’s bound or unbound (bound cadmium has only 2-6% absorbability).

Yes, many plant-based protein powders have tested high for heavy metals.

That’s why it’s up to you as the consumer to ask the manufacturer of your protein powder what their heavy metal contents are, especially if they use rice protein (if they won’t share those numbers, it’s a big red flag).

And choose a rice protein from organic brown rice to avoid ingesting potential chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Pea Protein

organic pea protein benefitsPea protein is another popular plant-based source of protein. It’s becoming increasingly prevalent in vegetarian / vegan / dairy free powders for several reasons:

  1. It’s generally lower in heavy metals than rice protein.
  2. It’s a “complete” protein source that contains an impressive BCAA profile.
  3. Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten or dairy.
  4. It’s easy on the gut and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders from animal sources.
  5. It has been shown in small studies to have similar effects to whey protein on body composition.
  6. Pea protein has a PDCAA (digestible indispensable amino acid score) of .89 (whey is 1). When combined with rice, hemp, and/or soy in certain combinations, you can get this number on par with whey!

While pea protein hasn’t been studied as much as whey or soy, it is a promising protein source for those looking for alternatives to dairy proteins. Again, organic pea protein is always a safer choice because you’re ingesting less pesticides.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is another popular plant-based protein powder. Most men should avoid it because it contains isoflavones and phytoestrogens that share similarities with estrogen.

It’s often extracted using hexane, a petroleum-based solvent … and most soy from comes from genetically modified (GMO) soybeans.

However, according to several studies, soy protein may have body composition benefits for older women.

One study showed that a daily supplement of soy protein prevented increases in subcutaneous and total abdominal fat in older women. Another showed soy protein had a mild effect on body composition in elderly women.

One caveat: whey has been shown to be more effective than soy for improving lean body mass when combined with resistance training. So if lean body mass is your goal, you may want to consider other protein sources than soy if you’re using a protein powder.

How Is Protein Powder Made?

Protein powder processing methods depends on the type of protein and the company making it.

Whey Protein Processing

how is whey protein madeMost commercial whey protein powders are made using a high-heat, acid-flushed, “ion exchange” process to separate the whey from the cow’s milk. This can strip away vital nutrients, creating an imbalanced, acidic “whey isolate” that’s then contaminated with synthetic additives, flavors, and chemicals to make it taste like something resembling food.

So why do companies use it?

Because processing protein with acids is cheaper, of course.

If you decide a whey protein supplement is best for you, I recommend choosing one that’s organic, from grass-fed cows, and raw or cold processed.

Ask the manufacturer how it’s made before you buy it and spend a few bucks more on an acid-free, organic product … it’s worth it.

What if you can’t tolerate milk-based products or prefer plant-based proteins though? How are those processed?

Plant Protein Processing

Many of the supposedly-healthy plant proteins used in supplements and packaged foods today are processed using hexane, a petroleum-based neurotoxin. Using hexane is an efficient and highly profitable way for food manufacturers to remove oil from plants and separate the protein.

If you decide a plant protein powder is a better option for you, look for plant-based protein powders that are cold processed and “enzymatically sprouted,” which means all-natural enzymes are used rather than chemicals to separate the protein from the plant.

Also, sprouting grains used in plant-based powders (e.g., rice, pea, amaranth) increases many of the plants’ key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine. Sprouted grains may also be less allergenic to those with grain sensitivities.

Who Should Take Protein Powder?

best protein for womanProtein powder is most commonly associated with athletes and people who are active … but it may be beneficial to everyday Joes and Janes too if you’re not getting enough protein (more on that in a minute). Here are a few reasons why:

  1. For healthy adults, low protein diets can lead to weight gain and increased fat mass.
  2. Eating more protein can help increase levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps control body fat.
  3. Eating protein can help strengthen bones as you age.

So How Much Protein Do You Need?

It depends on several factors:

  1. How much muscle you currently have. The more muscular you are, the more amino acids your body needs to maintain your current body composition. If you don’t know your body composition and want to make real, measurable improvements to your health, go see a personal trainer who offers body composition analysis so you can get a “baseline” of where you’re currently at.
  2. Your activity level. The more you move, the more protein your body needs.
  3. Your age. The older you get, the more protein your body needs to maintain its muscle.
  4. Your hormones. If your body has high levels of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), it will use protein more efficiently than someone with low levels. These hormones decrease as you age, which is one of the reasons why older adults need more protein.

So back to the original question: how much protein do you need?

The current recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 grams per pound) of body mass in generally healthy adults.

However, this protein intake recommendation is only to prevent protein deficiency and maintain nitrogen balance in the body (a negative nitrogen balance indicates that muscle is being broken down and used for energy).

It’s not necessarily optimal.

Studies show that athletes, active people, and older individuals may require even more protein (1.4 – 2.0 g/kg of body weight).

does protein powder workIn a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers compared muscle development in three groups of athletes on the same exercise routine but with different protein intake levels.

One group was given 1.4g/kg of body weight, the second group received 1.8g/kg of body weight, and the third group got 2.0g/kg of body weight.

The researchers found that 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight was sufficient to see favorable changes in body composition in athletes.

Non-athletes and particularly older adults need at least 0.8 g/kg per day to help preserve current levels of muscle (or “lean body”) mass.

So to recap:

  • Athletes need at least 1.8 g/kg of bodyweight [For a 150-pound person, that’s 122 grams of protein per day].
  • Older adults and non-athletes need at least 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight [For a 150-pound person, that’s 54 grams of protein per day].

When Should I Take Protein–Before or After a Workout?

If your goal is to lose body fat and increase lean body mass (muscle), then the answer is both.

In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers concluded the following:

High-quality protein dosed at 0.4–0.5 g/kg of LBM at both pre- and post-exercise is a simple, relatively fail-safe general guideline that reflects the current evidence showing a maximal acute anabolic effect of 20–40 g

That’s 27-34 grams of protein both before and after a workout for a 150-pound adult.

Couple other interesting things the study authors noted:

  1. Despite claims that you need to take protein immediately (within 1 hour) after a workout to maximize gains, evidence-based support for such an “anabolic window of opportunity” is far from definitive.
  2. Even minimal-to-moderate pre-exercise high-quality protein taken immediately before resistance training is capable of sustaining amino acid delivery into the post-exercise period. In other words, eating protein before your workout may have more impact.

Long story short, eat a little protein before and after a workout if building muscle and/or losing body fat is your goal.

What is the Best Protein Powder?

“Best” is an ambiguous term. The best protein supplement for you depends on your age, your health goals, and a number of other factors.

Here are a few common things to consider:

  • What protein powders get absorbed by your body best?
  • What are the benefits and risks of all the ingredients in your protein powder?
  • What protein powders do not cause digestive distress (gas, bloating, etc.) when you take them?
  • What type of protein is best for your unique health needs (losing muscle, building fat, etc.)?

For me personally, I choose packaged products with only organic ingredients I can pronounce … that have no/low sugar and have some dietary fiber.

As you can see, choosing a protein powder is a highly personal decision though.

For most people, the potential benefits of protein powder outweigh the risks if your diet is lacking in protein and/or you want to improve your body composition.


Grab Our Free Protein Guide Here

The Best All Natural Protein Powder for Women

best protein powder for women[If you want the PDF version of this post for later reading, download it here].

I must admit I had some trepidation when writing this post. That’s because:

a) I’m a man who sells a protein powder, and

b) There is no single best protein powder for women.

Stay with me though …

Because there are certain objective criteria you can look at and questions you can ask to evaluate protein powders to find the best one for you (whether you’re a woman or a man).

In this post I’ll share those insights with you.

Plus, I’ll show you supposedly all-natural ingredients to avoid based on my 15+ years as a science writer/researcher in the health and wellness industry and founder of my own small nutrition company.

Let’s get going …

Compare 20+ of the best all natural protein powders by ingredients, nutrition, cost, and more.

Types of Protein Powder

We’ll begin by looking at several types of protein that are marketed to women.

Whey Protein

You may have heard that whey protein is the best type of protein powder for women.

It’s not. 

Here’s why …

Whey is derived from dairy (it was a waste product of cheese-making before supplement companies realized they could process it and sell it).

According to the National Institutes of Health, 65 percent of adults have a reduced ability to digest dairy (this is called lactose intolerance).

Lactose intolerance can cause any number of the following:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Imbalance of gut bacteria (which promotes dysbiosis of the gut)
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability

Aside from these inflammatory responses lactose intolerance leads to, whey is also hyper-insulinogenic. This means your body secretes a lot of insulin when you eat it. Hyperinsulinemia is associated with hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, and glucose intolerance (collectively known as metabolic syndrome).

Can whey protein help if you’re a woman looking to gain lean body mass (or “muscle mass”)? It appears so.

But the potential side effects outweigh the benefits, in my opinion.

Plant-based Proteins

Soy Protein

While there are studies that show soy might have some benefits for older women such as lowering cholesterol, easing menopausal symptoms, and reducing risk of breast cancer, other research casts doubt on these findings.

A report published by the DHHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes, concluded that there was “little evidence to support a beneficial role of soy and soy isoflavones in bone health, cancer, reproductive health, neurocognitive function, and other health parameters.”

Perhaps most alarmingly for women, soy may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Also, most non-organic soy protein is derived from GMO crops.

Rice Protein

brown rice protein woman weight lossWhey protein is commonly thought of as a superior protein source for women looking to improve body composition (lose fat, increase muscle) compared to plant-based protein powders.

However, when one group of researchers studied whey vs. rice protein head to head, they found that both whey and rice offered similar post-exercise body composition benefits … there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups.

Another study found that leucine, the key amino acid to activate muscle building, was absorbed faster from rice protein than leucine from whey protein. The study also found that amino acids in brown rice protein are highly bioavailable and are non-statistically different from whey protein in trained athletes, despite claims from whey proponents claiming superior digestibility and “bioavailability.”

However, certain brands of rice protein have tested high for heavy metals like arsenic, which has made rice protein the source of much debate as well.

If you’re going to use a rice protein powder, make sure you ask the manufacturer for the heavy metal counts.

Finally, rice protein may be more beneficial when combined with other plant sources

Pea Protein

best protein powder for women Pea protein is one of the best plant-based sources of protein if you’re looking to replace body fat with lean muscle. It may also help you:

Lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decrease your risk of heart disease and kidney disease.

Pea protein has an impressive amino acid profile that may be complementary with other plant-based sources like rice and hemp.

Hemp Protein

hemp protein fiber muscleHemp protein is generally made of about 50% protein and 50% fiber. Because of this, some critics knock it as a protein source.

But hemp is one of the only vegan protein sources that contains all nine essential amino acids.

And hemp protein provides the essential fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6 in a well balanced 3:1 ratio.

Consuming hemp is safe, healthy and legal (no, it won’t get you high). On top of that, hemp protein powder may help improve heart health, decrease osteoporosis risk, reduce sugar cravings and boost your immune system.

When combined with other plant proteins it offers a powerful plant-based complement.

Other Plant Proteins

There are plenty of other plant-based protein sources on the market (pumpkin seed, sacha inchi, flax, chia, barley, and algae, to name a few).

Not many of them have been studied in humans yet though.

This doesn’t make them bad options. Just stick with ones that are a) organic and b) processed using low heat methods (otherwise, vital nutrients can get destroyed).

What’s the Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss?

Any protein powder can help you lose weight as long as you create a calorie deficit.

Unfortunately, many of the protein products out there are marketed as weight loss supplements with “all-natural ingredients.” I’ll talk about the latter point in a minute, but the truth is, there’s no such thing as a “weight loss protein powder”.

There’s evidence that eating a high protein, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to lose weight. Supplement companies use this data to their advantage.

Check out this report from the National Institutes of Health for more info about common ingredients touted for their weight loss benefits (spoiler alert: most don’t have a strong body of evidence to support their supposed efficacy).

There are actually certain ingredients protein powder manufacturers put in their products that may do more harm than good for some women … even though they’re marketed as all natural and clean.

Here are a few, in particular, to think twice about …

Protein Powder Ingredients Women Should Avoid

Red Flag Ingredient #1: Sugar 

I’ve reviewed many protein powders that contain 10 grams or more of added sugar per serving.

That’s roughly half a day’s worth if you’re a woman and a third of a day’s worth if you’re a man.

Sugar is one of the biggest causes of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Doesn’t matter if it comes from all-natural honey or highly-processed high fructose corn syrup … they produce the same metabolic responses in your body.

And artificial sweeteners like sucralose and sugar alcohols like xylitol may be worse.

Red Flag Ingredient #2: Flavors

The FDA allows food companies to use the term “natural flavors” to describe any food additive that originated in nature. They’re now the 4th most common ingredient on food labels.

In a fascinating 2011 interview that aired on 60 Minutes, scientists from Givaudan, one of the largest companies in the $24 billion flavor market, admitted their number one goal when creating flavors was to make them addictive!

One of my biggest beefs with these “flavors” is protein powder manufacturers don’t have to tell you what’s in them.

David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), has this to say about so-called “natural” flavors:

The truth is that when you see the word “flavor” on a food label, you have almost no clue what chemicals may have been added to the food under the umbrella of this vague term. For people who have uncommon food allergies or are on restricted diets, this can be a serious concern. [Natural flavors] will often have some solvent and preservatives—and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.

Here’s my final red flag …

Red Flag Ingredient #3: Fillers, Gums, Emulsifiers

We talked about potential allergens and additives in flavors. But there some other common ingredients to be wary of when you see them on the ingredients list of protein powders. Food manufacturers love these fillers because they have unique properties that add desirable texture and/or shelf life to processed foods.

But they may come at a price: many have been shown to cause digestive distress and gut imbalances and/or raise your glycemic load, which can lead to a whole other set of issues.

  • Gums (xanthan, locust bean, arabic, carrageenan, guar, carob, etc.)
  • Lecithins (soy and sunflower)
  • Dextrins (maltodextrin and rice dextrin)

If you’re using a protein powder that doesn’t have organic ingredients, there’s a high likelihood all of those plant-based ingredients are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals.

If you’re in the dark about how these pesticides can impact your health, read what scientists have to say.

Summary: What’s the Best All Natural Protein Powder for Women?

Let’s not sugarcoat it: most women humans buy nutritional supplements like protein powders because they want to look better and/or feel better.

But what if looking and feeling better comes with a price?

Many protein powders have ingredients that cause inflammation, change your gut flora, raise your blood sugar, or worse.

Even most of the ones marketed as “all natural” have some type of highly-processed pseudo-food like gums, fillers, and other additives.

Most of them are deemed safe for consumption by the FDA … but “natural” has quickly become an ambiguous and over-marketed term in the protein powder business.

At the end of the day, all-natural comes down to the ingredients: are they real food as close to their natural state as possible or are they pseudo-foods that contains fillers, additives, and other junk?

In most cases it’s the latter, unfortunately.

The best protein powder for you depends largely on your health and fitness goals. Are you trying to lose body fat? Gain muscle mass? Eat cleaner, more natural foods?

In my opinion, the potential price you’ll pay down the road is not worth the risk when it comes to protein powders that contain these types of ingredients.

Click here to get my spreadsheet comparing 20+ protein powders/shakes by ingredients, nutrition, cost, and more.

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acid Chart

“Amino acids” is one of those buzz terms you probably hear quite often if you’re interested in health and wellness. After reading this article, you’ll understand:

  • What they are
  • Why you need them
  • The difference between essential, non-essential, and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)

I’ll also show you an amino acid chart for both Pure Food Protein flavors, since it’s a common question I get from customers.

Let’s jump right in …

What Are Amino Acids?

If proteins are the “building blocks of muscle,” amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

Your body uses amino acids to make proteins that help you break down food, grow/repair muscle and other body tissue, and perform many other functions.

There are around 500 amino acids scientists have discovered. Since only 20 appear in human genetic code, we refer to these as the “standard 20“. Here they are, in all their chemical compound glory:

standard 20 amino acids

Types of Amino Acids

There are three main types of amino acids:

1. Non-Essential Amino Acids

Your body makes 11 out of the 20 standard amino acids. This means it’s not “essential” to eat foods that contain them, since your body creates enough.

The 11 non-essential AAs include: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

2. Essential Amino Acids

Unlike non-essential AAs, your body can’t make essential amino acids, which means you must get them from the foods you eat. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

essential amino acid chart

3. Conditional amino acids

Arginine has a star next to it in the image above because it’s also considered a “semi-essential”, or conditional amino acid. Your body only needs these types of AA’s in certain situations (when you’re stressed or sick, for example).

Conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

So what happens when you don’t get enough essential amino acids in your diet?

First, a lack of essential amino acids from foods in your diet affects your body’s ability to use protein.

Protein deficiency impacts pretty much all of the body’s organs and systems.

Protein deficiency is one of the biggest public health problems in the world, accounting for about 30-40% of hospital admissions in developing countries.

However, most of you reading this don’t live in developing countries … so should protein deficiency really concern you?

Let’s find out the answer to one of the most common questions I get …

How do I determine how much protein I need?

The short answer: it depends.

The current recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 grams per pound) of body mass in generally healthy adults.

However, this protein intake recommendation is only to prevent protein deficiency and maintain nitrogen balance in the body (a negative nitrogen balance indicates that muscle is being broken down and used for energy).

It’s not necessarily optimal.

Studies show that athletes, active people, and older individuals may require even more protein (1.4 – 2.0 g/kg of body weight).

For healthy adults, low protein diets often lead to weight gain and increased fat mass.

Eating more protein can help increase levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps control body fat. It can also help strengthen bones as you age. And if you’re concerned about negative health effects of protein on kidney function, nearly all of these studies looked at animal sources of protein, not plant-based protein.

One of key indicators of the “quality” of a protein source is not whether or not it comes from a plant or animal … it’s the amount of BCAAs

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Why Do You Need Them?

Of the essential amino acids, three account for as much as 33% of muscle tissue – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are called Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs.

Here’s a breakdown of each:

Leucine is arguably the most important BCAA because there’s clinical evidence that shows it helps your body synthesize protein. Aim for 2-3 grams of leucine per day for optimal protein synthesis. (Side Note: 1 serving of both Pure Food Protein flavors have 2 grams of leucine … more on this below)

leucine bcaa plant protein

Isoleucine is another BCAA. It can help your body regulate blood sugar levels and ensure your muscle cells are metabolizing sugar (instead of fat cells).

Researchers have yet to determine an “optimal” isoleucine level.

Valine is the third branched chain amino acid. Based on current research, it’s the least important BCAA for body composition. It’s also the least-studied, so I’ll report back when more clinical data becomes available.

bcaas valine

Do You Need a BCAA Supplement?

No.

Get your BCAAs from real food instead.

You may have seen BCAA supplement peddlers state that BCAAs may lead to anabolic effects before, during, and after exercise. However, there are zero double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that show BCAA supplementation is any more effective than getting your BCAAs from food.

If you eat the right amount of protein for your body type, composition, age, and health goals (see above), then there’s no reason to take a BCAA supplement.

Pure Food Amino Acid Chart: Essentials and BCAAs

Vanilla:

Isoleucine 1.108
Leucine 2.117
Valine  1.362
Histidine 0.600
Lysine 1.281
Methionine 0.509
Phenylalanine 1.382
Threonine 0.937
Tryptophan 0.280
Arginine 1.741

Total BCAAs: 4.587 grams

Cacao:

Isoleucine 1.039
Leucine 1.981
Valine  1.279
Histidine 0.565
Lysine 1.197
Methionine 0.479
Phenylalanine 1.294
Threonine 0.880
Tryptophan 0.264
Arginine 1.636

Total BCAAs: 4.299 grams

Wrap Up

Getting the right amount of essential amino acids, and particularly BCAAs, does a body good.

However, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to choke down whey protein shakes and eat bloody steaks every day to get your BCAAs.

Protein that comes from meat is not “superior” to protein that comes from plants. Research shows that both protein from plant sources and animal sources seem to work equally well in increasing muscle protein synthesis.

You don’t need a supplement either to get your BCAAs each day. Eat plenty of whole, plant-based foods and if you need a little extra protein (remember, athletes, active people, and older individuals do), consider a clean vegan protein powder like Pure Food, which has 4 grams of BCAAs.


See What Pure Food Can Do for You

 

Shakeology Reviews: An Unbiased Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Analysis

Most Shakeology reviews have one thing in common: a vested interest in selling Beachbody products. 

That’s because they’re all written by Beachbody “Coaches.” [side note: I was a Coach for a short stint several years ago, so I’m very familiar with their marketing methods.]

While I do sell a plant protein powder of my own, my analysis/review of Shakeology’s products is unbiased because I use three objective criteria when evaluating their protein powders: 1.) Ingredients, 2.) Nutrition, and 3.) Cost.

Here’s the thing …

Shakeology actually has a lot of good stuff in it.

Unfortunately, there are some ingredients they use that concern me though, as you’re about to see.

Scroll below to see the summary and full versions of my Shakeology review …

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Shakeology Reviews (Summary Version)

Similar to my other plant-based protein powder analyses, I am judging Beachbody’s Shakeology protein powders based on health and nutrition … NOT taste.

So here’s the deal …

In this section I’ll provide an analysis of Shakeology’s products as a whole and tell you the 4 things that concern me most about it. Below we’ll look at the complete nutrition facts and ingredients for each product separately.

Here we go …

Shakeology Nutrition Summary: All Products

Calories 160-170
Grams of Protein 16-17
Protein Source(s) Regular Shakeology: Whey protein isolate, pea protein, sacha inchi, flax, chia, quinoa

Shakeology Vegan Protein: Pea protein, oat protein, rice protein, chia, flax, quinoa

Grams of Sugar 6-8
Free of “Natural” Flavors No
Free of Gums & Thickeners No
Organic No
Vegan Yes
Cost Per Gram $.10

 

Here are 5 things I wish Shakeology would improve:

  1. Shakeology’s products are not organic.
  2. Shakeology shakes have an average of 6-8 grams of added sugar per shake.
  3. At $.10/gram, Shakeology is one of the more expensive protein powders on the market. (Note: I use cost per gram to account for different serving sizes).
  4. Most of Shakeology’s non-vegan shakes contain whey protein isolate. Whey protein may do more harm than good for many people with dairy sensitivities or allergies.
  5. Shakeology has “natural” flavors. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has an awesome web resource that evaluates the safety of the most common food additives. In its “Safety Ratings,” CSPI says natural flavors “may trigger an acute, allergic reaction, intolerance, or other problems.”
is shakeology bad for you
source: https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/chemical-cuisine

Click here to get my FREE report on the dangers of natural flavors.

Next we’ll break down the nutrition facts and ingredients for each of Shakeology’s products/flavors separately.

Shakeology Ingredients / Nutritionals Review

Alrighty, let’s start with the good. I actually like a lot of the ingredients in Shakelogy:

  • Seeds: chia, flax, and quinoa
  • Greens: moringa, chlorella, kale, spinach, and spirulina
  • Probiotics/digestive enzymes
  • “Adaptogenic blend”: ashwagandha, maca, etc.

However, like I said above, there are 5 major issues I have with Shakeology’s products:

  1. They’re not organic. Any “superfood” that’s not organic may be sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides and/or high is in heavy metals. In fact, Shakeology found itself in hot water a couple years ago when Dr. Oz. issued a warning about the lead levels in their products. Beachbody, Shakeology’s parent company, has since reformulated their products to address these concerns.
  2. Sugar content. 6-8 grams of added sugar is too much for a 160-170-calorie protein shake for non-athletes. If your body isn’t using that sugar during exercise, it will get converted into fat.
  3. Price. At $.10/gram, Shakeology is one of the most expensive protein powders on the market. It retails at $130 for 30 servings.
  4. Whey protein. For people sensitive to dairy, whey is not a good protein choice. Read my article Whey Vs Plant Protein. Shakeology does make several vegan proteins, as you’ll see below … but they all have 6-8 grams of added sugar, depending on the flavor.
  5. “Natural” flavors. Natural flavors can contain hundreds of different substances–many of them chemicals–and still be called “natural.” Here’s what the EWG has to say about them:

Consumers may be surprised to learn that so-called “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals such as the solvent propylene glycol or the preservative BHA.  Flavor extracts derived from genetically engineered crops may also be labeled “natural,” because the FDA has not fully defined what that term means.

Shakeology has 8 different products/flavors: chocolate, vanilla, cafe latte, strawberry, greenberry, chocolate (vegan), vanilla (vegan), cafee latte (vegan), and tropical strawberry (vegan).

shakeology review

Let’s have a look at the nutrition facts and ingredients for each, starting with the vegan ones, which I recommend over the whey protein based shakes.

I highlighted areas of concern in red below …

Beachbody Shakeology Nutrition Facts Labels

Vanilla Vegan Protein

shakeology vegan vanilla
There are some ingredients in Shakeology’s “superfood blend” I really like: the protein sources, mushroom powders, and herbs. However, beware of the red flag ingredients: sugar, “natural” flavors, xanthan gum.

Cafe Latte Vegan Protein

plant-based shakology
8 grams of sugar in a protein shake is way too much unless you’re a hardcore exerciser! It doesn’t matter is it’s “organic cane sugar” or high fructose corn syrup … your body processes these the same way.

Chocolate Vegan Chocolate Protein Powder

shakeology chocolate vegan protein ingredients
Again, some great superfood ingredients here; however, you should be wary of the added sugar and gums.

Vegan Tropical Strawberry Protein Powder

shakology tropical strawberry protein nutrition
Lots of different “natural” flavors going on here.

Chocolate Protein Powder

shakeology chocolate nutrition facts

Vanilla Protein Powder

shakeology vanilla nutrition

Greenberry Protein Powder

shakeology reviews unbiased

Strawberry Protein Powder

beachbody shakeology nutrition label

Cafe Latte Protein Powder

shakeology ingredients

Bottom Line: Is Shakeology Good for You?

Even though I have strong opinions about protein powders, I tried to remain as unbiased as possible in my Shakeology reviews.

From a nutrition standpoint, there are some really nice ingredients in Shakeology: quality protein sources in their plant-based ones along with with a nice mix of adaptogenic herbs, mushroom powders, and other superfoods.

However, the problems I have with Beachbody’s Shakeology shakes is they a) are not organic; b) have 6-8 grams of added sugar per serving, c) contain flavors, and d) are not cheap.

There are definitely worse protein powders you can buy, and the Chocolate Vegan flavor is the “cleanest” of the bunch when it comes to ingredients, based on my analysis.

But for the money, I recommend sticking with an organic, plant-based protein with 100% real food ingredients instead.


best plant-based protein powders

The Best Vegan Probiotics, According to Science

4 out of every 5 probiotic supplements contain dairy-based derivatives.

This isn’t just bad news for vegans. 

Why?

Because:

  1. Up to 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, which means milk-based probiotics can make things worse for those with dairy sensitivities.
  2. Dairy-based probiotics are often only shelf stable for a few days. After this, the bacteria start to die. So, you have to take more of them to feel any effect.

Vegan probiotics must be better for you then, right?

Not necessarily.

Most vegan probiotic manufacturers use corn-, soy-, and wheat-based fillers and additives that may make your gut issues worse.

And many just flat out don’t work.

In this guide, I’ll help you navigate the fascinating yet complex world of probiotics. We’ll talk about the best vegan food sources of probiotics. Then I’ll show you what to look for if you decide to take a vegan probiotic supplement.

Away we go …

What Are Probiotics and Why Are They So Popular Right Now?

best vegan probiotics

There are 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of neurons known as your “microbiome”.

The densest part of your microbiome is in your gut, where about 1,000 species of bacteria feast on complex carbohydrates and fibers you eat.

The microbiome plays an important role in your body …

Scientists have discovered that 70-80 percent of your immune system is controlled by your microbiome and 95 percent of your body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter that’s the main contributor to your well-being and happiness—is made in your gut, not your brain.

The gut microbiome is largely shaped by what we eat and drink. And the Western diet, with its heavy use of heavily processed foods like refined flour and sugar, actually starves your microbiota, leading to a plethora of health conditions.

That’s why probiotics, these “good”, “friendly” or “healthy” bacteria you can take in supplement form, are so popular now.

The Best Sources of Probiotics for Vegans and Vegetarians

1. Fermented vegetables 

Sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are among the most popular natural sources of vegan probiotics. But most of the store brands contain vinegar and preservatives, which kill the beneficial bacteria.

So look for pickled vegetables that are naturally fermented using salt.

Or just make your own.

Personal note: I was inspired to start fermenting vegetables after reading Michael Pollan’s fantastic book, Cooked. All you need is vegetables/fruit, salt, and a fermentation vessel. This is the crock I use if you get serious but when you’re first starting out, any large container will work).

Also, the cellular structure of certain foods makes them act as “superfoods” for good microbes to feed on. These include onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, jicama, and peas.

2. Fermented tea 
Kombucha is black tea that’s fermented with sugar. Some store-bought brands also add sugar, which can strengthen harmful microbes like E. coli.

Personal note: I got this kombucha kit and use it to make a fermented tea called Jun that uses green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar. Here’s how to make it.

3. Sourdough Bread

There is not a more delicious way to enjoy the benefits of probiotics than eating a warm, crusty slice of sourdough bread (assuming you don’t have a gluten sensitivity).

Personal note: I also start making sourdough bread after reading Cooked. Seriously, read the book! Then pick up a sourdough starter and some flour and make this no-knead Cast Iron Sourdough Bread recipe. from the New York Times.

4. Fermented soy

Soy has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so much in processed foods and is one of the top 8 allergens. However, fermented soy products like organic miso, tofu, and soy sauce may actually have some health benefits.

5. Variety

Simple sugars cause conflict between our microbes and cells, but eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains encourages cooperation between them. Gregory Plotnifkoff, MD, coauthor of Trust Your Gut recommends adhering to the old Japanese adage of eating at least 30 different whole foods per day!

6. Supplements

Eating 30 different foods can be a challenge for time-strapped folks though. That’s where probiotic supplements may help …

How to Find the Best Probiotic for Your Health Needs

healthiest probioticsNot all probiotics strains are the same. Different strains offer different benefits and some probiotic strains survive manufacturing processes, shelf life and digestive transit better than others. When choosing a probiotic consider the following questions:

  1. Is it derived from dairy? As mentioned, even if you’re not a vegan, dairy can be problematic for the 65 percent of people who can’t digest lactose properly. Choose vegan probiotics instead.
  2. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid and/or manufacturing? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others. Always ask the manufacturer of your probiotic if they have any clinical research to support their product. Just because they sell a popular strain, doesn’t mean their probiotic are live and active.
  3. Is your probiotic safe and FDA-approved? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, most don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics for safety and efficacy and can provide documentation to prove it.
  4. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by randomized, double-blind, peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  5. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, allergens, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask them what “excipients” are in it.
  6. What health challenges are you facing? Different strains of probiotics offer different types of benefits. Don’t just buy a probiotic without understanding the type or types of strains it contains—otherwise you’re very likely wasting your money. For example, I suffer from GI issues, so I make sure I take strains that help me with those.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics

Research shows you can take probiotics before, during, or after meals. However, you may experience additional benefits if you take your probiotics with some form of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, etc.).

Benefits of Various Probiotic Strains

Let’s look at some of the strain-specific benefits of probiotics …

Sleep Benefits

We spend almost a third of our lives asleep. Researchers are discovering that the duration and quality of our sleep affect everything from our cognitive performance, mood, and memory to the health of our immune and endocrine systems.

It’s widely known that quality sleep can improve your memory, reduce inflammation (the pre-cursor to most disease), sharpen your mental focus, help you control your weight, and lower your stress levels.

Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) produce and regulate a number of neurotransmitters and hormones that impact our sleep:

Tryptophan and Melatonin: Probiotics can increase blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin and then into melatonin, the hormone that regulates how sleepy you feel.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and plays a significant role in sleep quality. Researchers found that serotonin deficiency in rats led to disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Most serotonin is made in the gut.

GABA: Beneficial bacteria help produce GABA, the calming brain chemical, as well as enhance its brain receptors.

Cortisol: If temporary stress and anxiety are the cause of your sleepless nights, rest assured that probiotics may even lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that becomes elevated during times of stress.

So what probiotic strains have been shown to be effective for sleep? Not many, just yet.

A small study showed that the probiotic Streptococcus can help improve sleep outcomes.

Mental Health Benefits

The relationship between the microbiota and anxiety/depression has been studied mainly in animals … but preliminary research is promising.

Your gut microbiota plays a major role in the communication between the gut and the brain.

A review of several research studies showed that certain probiotics have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. The researchers concluded:

Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT (fecal microbiota transplantation) may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression.

Weight Loss Benefits

In a metaanalysis of over 800 studies, researchers found that:

Administration of probiotics resulted in a significantly larger reduction in body weight and fat percentage compared with placebo; however, the effect sizes were small.

Immunity Benefits

Research is still emerging in this area but it appears probiotics may be able to help you keep your immune system functioning at a higher level.

New research has shown that certain strains can activate health immune cells and decrease inflammation.

Gut Health Benefits

Several probiotic strains have been shown to help those suffering from GI issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowl disease (IBD), and food allergies.

Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

According to the National Institutes of Health, the safety of probiotics depends on the state of your health and the strain you’re using.

In people who are generally healthy, probiotics have a solid safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms such as gas.

On the other hand, there have been reports linking some probiotics to severe side effects, such as dangerous infections, in people with serious underlying medical problems. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects include critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

Do your homework and ask your doctor about any certain strains so she/he can tell you whether it’s safe for you.

Why GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans) is the One of the Best Vegan Probiotic Supplements

vegan probioticsOk, I’ll admit I’m a little biased here because GanedenBC30 is the probiotic we use in Pure Food Protein.

But here’s why I think it’s one of the best vegan probiotics on the market …

Bacillus coagulans is:

  • Proven to be safe for people of all ages (it’s one of the few strains with FDA “Generally Recognized As Safe” affirmation)
  • Calorie and gluten-free
  • Organic Compliant
  • Kosher and halal
  • A sustainable, naturally occurring, non-GMO ingredient (non-GMO verified)
  • Studied and supported in over 25 peer reviewed, published clinical trials.
    • Research on GanedenBC30 demonstrates the probiotic helps keep your digestive system functioning at full speed.
    • Several studies found that GanedenBC30 reduced bloating and gas and even abdominal pain.
    • In addition to helping people digest food better, GanedenBC30 increased utilization of minerals and proteins and
    • GanedenBC30 can even support immune function, according to several studies.
  • One of the few EXTREMELY stable probiotics due to the cell’s ability to form a protective spore. Just like plant seeds wait to grow until spring when the temperature and moisture levels are optimal, GanedenBC30 spores wait to germinate and grow until they reach the intestines where the conditions are just right. This protective shell also gives GanedenBC30 is one of the few vegan probiotics on the market that can survive harsh manufacturing processes, product shelf life, and the journey through the digestive system.

Bottom Line About Vegan Probiotics

the best probioticsFrom the day you were born, your digestive tract has been exposed to a steady stream of bacteria–some helpful, some harmful. One key to gastrointestinal (GI) health is maintaining a balance of these “good” and “bad” bacteria.

Over time, diet, aging, antibiotic use, travel, medications, illness, stress, and hormonal changes can disrupt your intestinal balance.

Keeping a healthy level of these “good” bacteria is key to maintaining your digestive and immune health.

To help level the playing field of good and bad bacteria, many people find it helpful to add a daily supplement or eat more probiotic fortified foods and beverages.

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to answer the 6 questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing the right probiotic supplement for you.


Learn More About Pure Food Protein Powder with Probiotics

Sources Not Linked to Above/Further Reading:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-humans-carry-more-bacterial-cells-than-human-ones/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10564096

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204468004577164732944974356

https://www.ganedenbc30.com/health

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

https://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/1386089/The_Microbiome.html

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gut-week-do-probiotics-work-are-they-good-for-me/ 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/11/18/244526773/gut-bacteria-might-guide-the-workings-of-our-minds

https://experiencelife.com/article/how-to-heal-a-leaky-gut/