Tag Archives: protein

Protein Brownies (Healthy, Low Sugar, Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free)

If you’re looking for a healthy brownie treat you don’t have to feel guilty about, you’ve come to the right place.

Now, my criteria for “healthy” is admittedly a bit more stringent than most.

So this is definitely not a sugar bomb like your typical brownie. But check out these impressive nutrition #s:

  • 247 calories
  • 10 g protein
  • 6 g fiber
  • 4 g sugar

And not only it is low in sugar, it’s free of dairy, gluten, and soy … perfect for vegan, vegetarians, and anyone with food intolerances!

Here’s the recipe:

Homemade Healthy High Protein Brownie Recipe

What’s In It:

1 cup applesauce
1 cup oat flour
~1 cup chocolate protein powder (I used 8 scoops of Pure Food Cacao Protein)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or real vanilla bean powder if you can afford it)
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T coconut oil (divided into two 1 T servings)
optional: 1/4 crushed nuts like walnuts or pecans (I used 1/4 cup walnuts)
optional: dark chocolate chips (I chopped up 1/4 of an Alter Eco Blackout Bar for this recipe, which has 90% cacao content)**

How to Make It:

  1. To make your own applesauce, blend the 2 peeled and cored apples with 1.5 cups of water.
  2. Add the oat flour, protein, vanilla, salt, 1 T coconut oil (and nuts and dark chocolate if you go that route). Mix thoroughly.
  3. Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan with the remaining T of coconut oil. Spread the mixture evenly onto pan.
  4. Cook at 325 degrees F for 20-25 min.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours then cut into 9 bars.

Nutrition Facts (per brownie)*:

  • 247 calories
  • 9 g fat
  • 31 g carbs (6 g fiber, 4 g sugar**)
  • 10 g protein

**If you like yours a little sweeter, add a little honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or stevia to the recipe.

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.

The Best All Natural Protein Powder for Women

best protein powder for womenI 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 30+ of the best all natural protein powders by ingredients, nutrition, cost, and more.

Types of Protein Powder for Women and Men

We’ll begin by looking at several types of protein.

Whey Protein

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

That may not be the case though.

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

Now some people may say that whey does not affect people who are lactose intolerant. I can tell you as someone who is lactose intolerant and allergic to dairy that it definitely affects me!

And aside from these inflammatory responses lactose intolerance may 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

all natural protein powderHemp 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 Based Proteins Powders

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?

Most protein powders 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 and market their products to supposedly help women lose weight.

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: Natural 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 “all natural” 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 are 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)

Red Flag Ingredient #4: Non-organic Ingredients

If you’re using a protein powder, particularly a plant-based one, that doesn’t have organic ingredients, there’s a high likelihood all of those 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, to find the best all-natural protein powders for you, start with the ingredients: do you only see ingredients you recognize as real food on the label or are they pseudo-foods that contain added sugar, fillers, additives, and other junk?

In most cases it’s the latter, unfortunately. 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.

The best protein powder for you depends largely on your health and fitness goals too.

Are you trying to lose body fat? Gain muscle mass? Eat cleaner, more natural foods?

Again, the ingredients and nutrition facts are really the only objective source of truth you should be using to evaluate your protein powder. If you have further questions/comments, reply at the bottom!

Click here to get my spreadsheet comparing 30+ 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:

Isoleucine1.108
Leucine2.117
Valine 1.362
Histidine0.600
Lysine1.281
Methionine0.509
Phenylalanine1.382
Threonine0.937
Tryptophan0.280
Arginine1.741

Total BCAAs: 4.587 grams

Cacao:

Isoleucine1.039
Leucine1.981
Valine 1.279
Histidine0.565
Lysine1.197
Methionine0.479
Phenylalanine1.294
Threonine0.880
Tryptophan0.264
Arginine1.636

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

 

Vega Protein Powder Reviews: Nutrition & Ingredients Analysis

When I started looking at the Vega protein powder reviews scattered across the Internet, I noticed they were all missing one hugely important thing: a fair analysis of the stuff that Vega actually puts in their products.

First, a disclaimer: I sell a protein powder. So that naturally invites some bias into the equation. That’s why when I review whether a protein powder is nutritious or not, I look at two objective criteria:

  1. The Ingredients
  2. The Nutrition Facts

They reveal the answers to these important questions:

  • Are the ingredients all organic and made from real food?
  • Any allergens or inflammation-causing soy, dairy, or gluten?
  • Do they contains gums, fillers, and/or natural flavors?
  • How much protein per serving?
  • What are the protein sources?
  • How much sugar is added?
  • What other sweeteners (real or artificial) do they use?

With that said, let’s dig in!

Researching Plant Protein Powders?

CLICK HERE to get our FREE Google Sheet comparing 25+ brands by nutrition, ingredients, and cost.

Vega Protein Powder Reviews (Summary Version)

Vega is one of the biggest plant based protein powder brands on earth. WhiteWave–the gargantuan corporation that makes soy-based products Silk and So Delicious–acquired Vega for $550 million in 2015. (side note: Dannon, the huge yogurt maker, acquired WhiteWave in 2016 for $10 billion!)

Here’s what I found out by looking at Vega’s ingredients and nutrition facts information:​

Vega Protein Smoothie Review

Vega Protein and Greens Review

Vega Sport Protein Powder Review

Vega One Review

Vegan Clean Protein Reviews

vega protein reviewsvega protein and greens reviewvega sport protein powder reviewvega one reviewsvega clean protein review
Calories90110160170130
Grams of Protein 15 20 30 20 25
Protein Source(s)Pea protein, saviseed protein, hemp seed protein, brown rice proteinPea protein, brown rice protein, hemp seed protein, sacha inchi proteinPea protein, pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed proteinPea protein, hemp protein, sacha inchi proteinPea protein, hemp protein, pumpkin seed protein
Grams of Sugar 2 2 1 1 1
Free of “Natural” FlavorsNoNoNoNoNo
Free of Gums & ThickenersNoNoNoNoNo
Organic NoNoNoNoNo
Vegan YesYes NoYes No
Amazon Reviews 3.93.9 4.0 4.0 3.5
Cost Per Gram $.05 $.04 $.05 $.06 $.05
Nutrition Facts (click/tap to enlarge)vega protein smoothie nutrition labelvega protein & greens nutrition  vega sport nutrition vega all in one nutrition facts informationvega clean nutrition label
Ingredients (click/tap to enlarge)vega protein smoothie ingredientsprotein greens ingredientsvega sport ingredientsvega all-in-one shake ingredientsvega clean ingredients

I noted a few red flags here, as you may have noticed in the ingredient images above.

Here’s why …

Vega Review (Extended Version)

There are several things I wish Vega would improve with its line of protein powders:

  1. They’re not organic.
  2. They contain “flavors”.
  3. They use gums, fillers, and other highly processed ingredients.
  4. Some of their processing methods involve heat treating, which kills essential nutrients and means their products are not raw.

Let’s explore each of these…

Issue #1: Not Organic

Here’s the deal:

Non-organic ingredients means there could be chemical pesticides and herbicides in your protein shake. Click To Tweet

If there’s one reason to spend a few more dollars on an organic product, this is it.

Eating foods contaminated with pesticides increases the odds you will get cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases. See this video from Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org:

This is Vega’s explanation for why they don’t use more organic ingredients (you can find this on the FAQs page of their website):

As demand for organic ingredients grows, it’s getting easier every year to find reliable sources of organic ingredients, but the cost of certification remains prohibitive for smaller-scale farmers.

C’mon Vega, you guys were acquired for half a billion dollars! You’re telling me you can’t find reliable sources of organic ingredients?

I run a protein powder business that’s 1/5000 of the size of yours and I have had no problems.

They’re right–it does cost more to produce organic ingredients. A lot more.

But when you’re owned by Big Food, unfortunately you often need to put shareholder profits first.

In my humble opinion, and according to the latest and greatest research, paying more for products with organic ingredients is worth every penny for your long-term health and wellbeing.