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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.

Is Stevia Natural? Here’s the Bitter Truth

A few years ago, I discovered a seemingly miraculous “all-natural” sweetener called Truvia. It seemed too good to be “true” (pun intended): mild taste, didn’t cause cancer, derived from plants, and none of the fat-promoting calories of regular sugar. I wanted to know: what the heck is stevia? Is stevia natural and safe? And what are the best and worst types of stevia?

Turns out powder from the real stevia plant is a far cry from the “stevia” found in nearly every food product on store shelves.

If you eat food that contains stevia on-the-regular, you’re going to want to pay close attention as we cover a very brief history of stevia along with its health benefits and the best and worst types of stevia.

What is Stevia?

The Stevia rebaudiana plant hails from South America (Paraguay), where its leaves have been used for centuries to sweeten beverages and make tea.

is stevia natural

Is Stevia Safe?

There are over 400 studies that showcase stevia’s ability to lower blood sugar, promote weight loss, prevent cavities, and maybe even help prevent certain types of cancer.

But there aren’t a whole lot of studies on its long-term health effects. One study showed when rats were fed high dosages of stevia, it reduced their sperm production. This led the FDA to reject the stevia plant for use as a food ingredient in the 1990s.

However, several highly-processed, chemically-extracted compounds from the stevia plant were approved and granted FDA “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status: rebaudioside A in 2008, stevioside and rebiana extracts in 2009, and purified stevioside in 2011.

It’s yet another puzzling example of the U.S. food system at work.

What Types of Stevia Are Healthy and Natural and Which Aren’t?

If you prefer to eat real food instead of chemically-altered versions of real food, it’s probably a good idea NOT to listen to government agencies influenced by “Big Food” lobbying groups. Use this simple list (ranked from best to worst) when buying products with stevia instead.

BEST

Organic Whole Leaf Stevia (or “Green Leaf Stevia” or “Ground Stevia Leaf Powder”) – Whole leaf stevia powder is simply dried, ground leaves from the actual stevia plant … and that’s it. This is the least processed of all types of stevia and the type that has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener and health remedy. It definitely has an earthier, slightly bitter taste because it’s in its natural state, but you only need a tiny little pinch to sweeten your favorite recipes.

MEDIOCRE

Stevia Extract (or “Stevia,” “Stevia Leaf Extract” or “Organic Stevia”) – Many brands (particularly those marketed as “healthy” and “natural”) use stevia extract. Don’t fall prey to the hype though—this type of stevia still goes through rigorous processing (and often bleaching) to extract certain compounds from the stevia plant. Plus, most food processors add an excipient (filler) that’s usually derived from a genetically modified product (i.e., maltodextrin, a processed starch made from GMO corn).

WORST

Truvia, PureVia, Stevia in the Raw – These are the types of stevia to avoid because of the extensive processing and added GMO ingredients.

Truvia, for example, goes through a patented 42-step processing method.

All commercial brands of “stevia” use chemical solvents, GMO derivatives, and/or other processed sweeteners. I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Eat Local Grown has a nice breakdown of several chemically-derived forms of stevia to watch out for.

Avoid these types of processed, GMO-laden "stevia"
Avoid these types of processed, GMO-laden “stevia”

The Bottom Line: Is Stevia Natural?

organic whole leaf stevia powder
This is what real, all natural stevia powder is supposed to look like!

Organic, whole stevia leaf powder in its natural state is a healthy, green, all-natural sweetener.

But the stevia most food companies use is a chemically-altered, bleached, stripped down version that’s likely to contain GMO fillers. Any time you see “stevia”, “stevia extract”, or even “organic stevia” on a food’s ingredients list, you’re getting a processed, inferior sweetener that’s NOT real food.

Dr. Josh Axe has a nice breakdown of the best and worst types of stevia for your health.

My advice:

Stick with organic whole leaf stevia leaf powder in moderation.

That is the only type of stevia that is 100% natural, safe, and healthy! And you only need a teeny tiny bit of it.

P.S. We only use organic, green, real food stevia powder in Pure Food Protein. Learn more about why each of our ingredients are safe, clean, and healthier than any other protein powder on the market and grab a sample bag for just $5 (including shipping) for a limited time.

Is Bone Broth Good for You? Here’s What Science Says

Bone broth is all the rage right now. This New York Times article praised bone broths’ “demonstrable nutrition benefits.” Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D. wrote an article on MindBodyGreen called The ONE Trick I Use To Stay Slim: A Nutritionist Explains. Her “one trick” is drinking bone broth. The list goes on.

I wanted to know if bone broth is actually good for you. It seems as if every blogger out there sings the praises of bone broth as a miracle cure for everything from digestive disorders to weight loss … but none of them ever seem to back it up with actual science.

That’s what we’ll do in this article: quickly sum up what actual research says about the pros and cons of bone broth.

Get your spoon ready, because we’re about to dig in …

The (Alleged) Health Benefits of Bone Broth

Here are some of the many health claims I found about the health benefits of bone broth:

is bone broth good for you

  • Heal leaky gut
  • Overcome foods intolerances and allergies
  • Improve joint health
  • Reduce cellulite
  • Boost immune system
  • Make your skin supple
  • Reduce cellulite

Unfortunately, there’s zero evidence to back up any of these claims. David Katz, M.D. Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, had this to say:

I recently published the third edition of my nutrition textbook for health care professionals. The book ran to over 750 pages, and roughly 10,000 references (and yes, it was every bit as painful as it sounds; writing textbooks is not for the faint of heart). Nowhere in the mix did I or my coauthors find, or cite, an article about the “demonstrable nutrition benefits” of bone broth.

One of the biggest benefits of bone broth that advocates tout is collagen, a protein found in the connective tissue of animals. Collagen, they say, can help strengthen your bones, protect your digestive tract, and improve your skin.

Again, there’s no clinical data to support any of these claims though. Most scientists will tell you it’s way overblown.

William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, said in this NPR article that:

Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking.

In the same article, food scientist Kantha Shelke says if you want to build collagen, you need more than bone broth:

Eating a diet rich in leafy green vegetables is ideal. Plants offer richer sources in collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats or broth.

The Actual Health Benefits of Bone Broth

There are two health claims about bone broth that do seem to hold up to scientific scrutiny.

One small study from the year 2000 found that chicken broth may help reduce inflammation and cold symptoms when you’re sick (personal anecdote: I always drink hot tea and broth when I’m sick, and it always helps).

Another small study found that bone broth or soups made with bone broth may help replace electrolytes after intense exercise and aid in post-workout recovery.

Other than that, there’s not much credible evidence that bone broth is actually good for you.

The Bottom Line

Like most health fads, take bone broth’s supposed magical elixir qualities with a grain of salt. Drinking salty animal broth may taste good, but it’s not a magic potion. I love making soups and stocks (here are some healthy soup recipes from my other website) but the evidence simply doesn’t justify all the hype they’re getting.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. David Katz:

The most remarkable thing about the dietary component of lifestyle as stunningly effective medicine is how simple it is. Real food, not too much, mostly plants, to quote Michael Pollan.