Here’s the deal …
There are two things I really like about most of Garden of Life protein powder products: 1.) they’re cheap, and 2.) they’re organic.
When I analyzed the ingredients and nutrition facts in their protein powders, I discovered some things that raised a few red flags.
In this article, I’m going to share those findings with you, so you can decide for yourself whether Garden of Life’s raw protein powders are the right choice for you.
Here are the condensed and full versions of my review:
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Garden of Life Protein Powder Review (Condensed Version)
Similar to my other plant protein powder reviews, I am reviewing Garden of Life protein powders based on health and nutrition … NOT taste. If you want to know what it tastes like, read the Amazon reviews.
This is what I look for in a healthy protein powder:
- Organic, real food ingredients
- Amount of protein per serving
- Protein sources
- Added sugars or other sweeteners used
- None of these junk ingredients:
- Natural flavors
Garden of Life meets most of these criteria …
Let’s start with what I like about Garden of Life protein powders:
- Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified
- Organic, sprouted grains and seeds
- At $.04/gram, their price point is very affordable
- The Unflavored version contains no sugar, stevia, gums, or other additives
Here’s a high-level overview of what’s in each of their 6 main protein powders (I noted my red flags and will tell you more about each below the chart):
Read on to find out why I highlighted the things above in red …
Garden of Life Protein Powder Reviews (Full Version)
Ok, so as we said, GOL looks pretty good at first glance. Organic ingredients, probiotics, quality protein sources.
There are a few red flags about GOL protein powders I want to tell you more about.
Let’s start with this one …
1. Most Garden of Life Protein Powders Have “Natural Flavors”
Here’s what David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has to say about natural flavors:
Natural and artificial flavors really aren’t that different. And those “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals! You’re right to be skeptical of the word “natural” – it’s often thrown around loosely.
Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says these flavors may induce food cravings in some people too.
I emailed Garden of Life and asked, “What ingredients, specifically, do your natural flavors contain?”
Here’s what they said:
In the Organic Plant Protein and RAW Organic Meal there will be ingredients that says it’s a flavor, like Organic Vanilla Flavor, which means that the ingredients is not strictly a vanilla bean that was added to the product but an extract form. This just means it’s more concentrated so less of the ingredient can be used without altering the nutrients that are in the product. In other flavors you’ll see a combination of both like the Chocolate Cacao flavor of the RAW Organic Meal. This one will have RAW Organic Cacao which is where chocolate comes from with Organic Chocolate Flavors just to enhance the cholate taste. If you were to just have the cacao then the product will most likely not taste like what most will expect from a chocolate flavored product.
Now, I’m not saying Garden of Life’s “flavors” contain other shady ingredients like most companies add, especially since they’re organic.
However, in general I avoid products with “flavors” because they may contain other additives and preservatives.
Let’s move on and talk about red flag #2.
2. Hidden Sugar in Garden of Life Raw Protein
I was surprised to see that two of Garden of Life’s unflavored protein powder products contain 6 grams of sugar! Check it out …
Garden of Life Raw Meal
Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens
If you’re buying an unflavored protein powder, added sugar is probably the last ingredient you want in it. And “organic cane sugar” is no better than any other sugar source.
The chemical composition is exactly the same … your body will break the sugar down into glucose and fructose in the digestive tract and it will have the exact same negative effects on your metabolism.
3. Garden of Life Recall and Controversy
Garden of Life was in hot water a few years ago when 33 people got Salmonella poisoning from their Raw Meal Organic Shake & Meal Replacement powdered mixes. The victims ranged in age from 1 year to 84 years old. I’ve had Salmonella and it was quite possibly the sickest I’ve ever felt in my life … wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Thankfully, none of the 33 people from the Garden of Life recall died.
Now, as someone who also sells an organic, plant-based protein powder I feel for GOL. These things happen in the food industry (thankfully not to us thus far).
But it doesn’t make it any less scary.
4. Garden of Life Nestle Acquisition
In December 2017, GOL’s parent company Atrium was acquired by Big Food giant Nestle for $2.3 billion.
Despite Garden of Life’s CEO Brain May assuring customers there are no “current plans” to change anything, many people are concerned based on Nestle’s track record of peddling junk food and investing money to thwart GMO labeling efforts.
When small companies get bought by big companies, they generally do everything possible to decrease costs, and the first thing they look at is, “How can we reduce the costs of our ingredients.” This often leads to more ingredient sourcing from questionable sources overseas.
The future of GOL’s ingredients remains to be seen.
Garden of Life Protein Powder Reviews Summed Up
The one Garden of Life product I really like and recommend is Organic Plant Protein (Unflavored). It’s a solid product with all organic, real food ingredients and contains probiotics. Here are the ingredients and nutrition facts:
I’ve used Garden of Life’s Raw Fit protein in the past but I’ve since phased out all products with “flavors.”
Unfortunately, all Garden of Life protein powders other than Unflavored Organic Plant Protein (Raw Fit, Raw Organic Meal, Raw Protein and Greens, and SPORT Organic Plant-Based Protein) contain flavors, gums, and/or sugars.
Long story short, I like their Unflavored products with no sugar added and their commitment to organic, real food ingredients … but can’t give their flavored ones my stamp of approval.