Dairy and gluten are two of the most common food allergens. 65% of U.S. adults are lactose intolerant and up to 3% are allergic to dairy … so it comes as no surprise that demand for protein powders that are gluten and dairy free has went up in recent years.
But there are two big challenges if you’re looking to find the best gluten free / non dairy protein powder for you:
1.) The abundance of hidden junk ingredients to be wary of (for example, most of the so-called best dairy free protein powders are loaded with added sugar and mystery chemicals and additives that may be doing your body more harm than good).
2.) Most people are relying on highly biased online reviews, which are cherry-picked by brands. I’ll share my “secret” for making sure you understand the pros and cons of each protein company you consider.
Long story short, just because you buy a protein powder without dairy or gluten, doesn’t mean it’s “healthy.”
In this guide, we’ll share our 5-step checklist you can use to objectively find the healthiest and best gluten free and non-dairy powders for you.
Why 99% of Gluten Free / Dairy Free Protein Powders Are Complete Junk (Even the Organic Ones)
Most of the time, the best selling protein powder brands are highly processed, pseudo-health foods with very good marketing.
So how do you see through the marketing hype and objectively assess which powders are worthy contenders?
First, you consult the only two pieces of objective information on the food label: the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list.
Most of the time, protein powder manufacturers will add chemical fillers, sugar, thickeners, fillers, and/or other unhealthy ingredients to make the product taste and mix better.
Here are the “Big Five” questions you should ask to find the healthiest dairy free and gluten free protein powder (or any high protein plant-based foods, for that matter):
5 Steps to Find the Healthiest Protein Powder Without Dairy and Gluten
- Check the sugar content. Sugar—no matter if it’s from cane honey, maple syrup, molasses, or coconuts—turns to fat in your body. Eating too much sugar increases your risk of dying from heart disease too. I recommend avoiding all protein powders with added sugar. If your protein is gluten-free and dairy-free yet contains a bunch of sugar, that pretty much defeats the purpose of taking a protein powder. If you like it sweeter, blend your shake with a little fruit instead!
- Find out which artificial sweeteners they use. You’ll often discover fake sugars like saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose in non dairy protein powder blends. To see some of the potential health effects of artificial sweeteners, check out this article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And there’s good reason to be wary of the supposedly “all-natural” sweeteners too. Xylitol and erythritol are highly processed “sugar alcohols” that can cause gas, bloating, and gut imbalances. Xylitol also commonly comes from genetically modified corn. Stevia leaf extract in its natural state is okay, but the stevia most food companies use is a chemically-altered, bleached, stripped down version that’s likely to contain GMO fillers (often with allergens like corn and soy). Monk fruit is another all-natural sweetener that may be a good option for you. Again, just make sure there are no additional dairy-based fillers or additives, which is often the case. When in doubt, ask the company you’re buying from!
- What types of protein do they use? Vegan protein powders made from organic pea, rice, hemp, sacha inchi, and pumpkin seed are generally healthier dairy-free sources of protein. Whey and casein proteins are milk-based and have lots of side effects so obviously aren’t good choices for those looking for a dairy free option. Collagen proteins may be another good dairy-free option (unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan). And if your protein powder isn’t organic, you’re probably drinking pesticides with your protein smoothie.
- How are their ingredients processed? This is a tricky one because protein manufacturers are hesitant to disclose this information (which is the first sign they’re hiding something). Most vegan protein powders—even the organic ones—are processed using high temperature methods that destroy vital nutrients in the plant and render much of the protein useless. If you have a severe allergy to gluten or dairy, you’ll want to avoid brands that are manufactured in a facility where other gluten- and/or dairy-containing products are produced.
- What other ingredients do they add? This is where most protein powders—especially the ones you may have thought are healthy—fail miserably. Here are a few common unhealthy ingredients to look out for:
- Natural flavors. Up to 90 percent of natural flavors are made of allergens like dairy, soy, corn, and gluten … as well as chemical solvents and preservatives, says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. If you have a dairy sensitivity, definitely ask the company you’re buying from if they use any allergens in their natural flavors (they may not even know!).
- Many protein powders that claim to be all-natural have gums like carrageenan, xanthan, locust bean. These cheap, processed fillers often have other additives and can lead to gut imbalances and be problematic for those with any GI issues.
- Lecithins. To make most lecithins, oil is extracted from soybeans or sunflowers using a toxic chemical called hexane. Most are made from GMO soybeans (unless they’re organic).
The Bottom Line: How to Find the Best Gluten Free and Non Dairy Protein Powders for You
There are lots of protein powders available these days without gluten and dairy. But a lack of those two allergens doesn’t make a product “healthy” or “clean,” like most of these brands claim to be.
Learn how to read and understand the ingredients list and nutrition facts label and then use the checklist above when evaluating protein brands.
It’s the only way to see through the marketing hype and know if your protein powder is healthy.
Lastly, as we mentioned above, most folks rely on online reviews when choosing what protein to buy. This is a great approach but make sure you understand that most of the reviews you see are cherry-picked by brands.
Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the full picture:
- Do a Google search for “INSERT BRAND NAME + reviews”.
- Read the top 3 positive and negative reviews on each review you visit (many of the online retail sites and brand sites will not have any negative reviews so Amazon is usually a good source here).