You remember those “Where’s Waldo” books? The ones where you had to find the little guy in the striped shirt in the middle of a colorful, chaotic scene filled with Waldo imposters?
That’s kind of what it’s like trying to figure out if all those protein powders marketed as “healthiest” and “all-natural” are actually good for you.
In other words, if you don’t know what to look for and where to look, chances are your protein powder may not be so healthy after all*.
Here’s why …
Supplement brands and their marketing teams spend LOTS of money on “Waldo imposters” (pretty graphics, clever marketing language, deceptive psychological tricks, etc.).
I know this because I was one of the guys they paid to help them create their marketing campaigns.
Here’s the truth they don’t want you to hear:
Most food supplement marketing is deliberately designed to distract you from scrutinizing the one piece of information that actually matters: the ingredients they put into their products.
In this article I’m going to show you how to see right through their b.s. and find the healthiest protein powder for you.
The Problem With Most Protein Powder Brands Marketed As “Healthy” and “All Natural”
When it comes to protein powder supplements, there’s one objective source of truth you can use to determine if a product is the right fit for your health needs: the ingredients list.
- Natural flavors. Natural flavors are the 4th most common ingredient on food labels. Unfortunately, they’re anything but natural. They can actually contain up to hundreds of chemicals and preservatives. Here are a few of the more common ones:
- Propylene glycol (found in antifreeze)
- BHA, a known carcinogen
- Genetically modified plants (GMOs) like corn and soy
- Insects and bizarre animal products (such as beaver’s anal secretions)
- Sugars. Sugar comes in many forms these days, as you well know. Most proteins have some type of sweetener added–whether it’s artificial or “natural” is open to interpretation. For example, some companies use sugar alcohols like xylitol and market them as natural. Sugar alcohols originate from plants, but they’re chemically altered and may cause major digestive distress. Many protein powders that use more “natural” sugars like agave claim to be the healthiest … but they have half a day’s worth of sugar per serving (Shakeology is one example). Choose a protein powder that has 1 gram of sugar or less per serving from all-natural sources.
- Additives and Fillers. Avoid anything that ends with “dextrin” (like maltodextrin, a cheap, highly processed food additive usually made from genetically modified (GMO) corn. Protein companies use it to make their products mix easier. Soy and sunflower lecithin are common additives used to thicken protein powders and other foods. To make soy lecithin, soybean oil (GMO unless it says “organic” or “non-GMO verified”) is extracted from raw soybeans using a chemical solvent (usually hexane), then dried and bleached.
- Allergens. Dairy, soy, and gluten are among the most common allergens you’ll find. If you’re chugging down whey protein shakes and it’s causing GI issues, STOP. Whey protein works for some people. But for the majority, the cons outweigh the pros.
- Gums. Gums are thickening agents that improve the texture of protein powder blends. Xanthan gum, a common one, is produced by bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Unfortunately, that medium is usually a potentially allergenic or GMO-containing substance such as corn, soy, dairy, or wheat. On top of that, xanthan gum has been shown to have a laxative effect … you might wanna wear a diaper if your protein powder has it. Be wary any time you see a “gum” listed on the ingredients list of your favorite protein brand.
3 Simple Steps to Help You Find the Healthiest Plant Protein Powder for You
Ignore all marketing claims
Don’t pay attention to the fancy graphics and clever words on the front of the package. They were designed by expert graphic designers and copywriters to sell the product. Instead, flip the package over.
Look at the nutrition facts panel
I look for protein powders with 0 grams of added sugars, 1 gram or less of total sugar from all natural sources, and 3 grams of fiber or more per serving (from real food … not gums and synthetically-derived plant fibers like inulin).
Look at the ingredients list
Is it a mile long? Are the ingredients organic? Are there ingredients that sound like a chemistry experiment? Do you see “natural flavors” and “gums”? These are the first warning signs of a cheap, crappy protein powder.
My rule of thumb: stick with plant based protein powders that have mostly (or all) organic ingredients you recognize as real food.
Conclusion: Most Protein Powder Brands Claiming to Be All Natural Are Anything But
Shopping for the right protein powder brand for you starts with identifying your health goals.
Are you looking for a clean, all-natural ingredients? Then scrutinize that ingredients list and avoid all the stuff I mentioned above.
If you’re looking to compare 20+ different protein powders, check out this post.
*Disclaimer: I sell an all-natural, plant-based protein powder called Pure Food.