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What you should know about protein powder

Protein is a vital macronutrient required by the human body for tissue building and repair. It is also involved in many other functions such as hormone synthesis, immune regulation as well as energy production.

Ideally we should aim to consume some form of protein at every meal (approximately 1/3 of our plate). We also need to ensure we consume a complete protein ( ie one that contains all 8 essential amino acids). Complete proteins come from either meat, fish, eggs, soy or dairy. And for vegetarians, complete protein is obtained by combining either nuts and seeds with legumes or grains.

Ideally protein is best sourced from a healthy and balanced diet. However, for some people, obtaining adequate protein throughout the day can be a challenge. A protein powder may be beneficial if you are –

Not all protein powders are the same.

< Many people in fact take protein powders without really knowing what’s in them. I have had many patients come to see me with digestive disorders who regularly took a milk based protein powder without knowing what it was made from. Protein powders are generally derived from either milk, egg, legumes or grains. For this reason, not all protein powders are relevant for all people. Food sensitivities or intolerances or poor digestive function may mean that a particular protein powder is better tolerated than another. Seek professional advice from a qualified Naturopath if you are unsure.

Types of protein powders –

Whey is a type of protein found in cow’s or goat’s milk. It is low in lactose, absorbed quickly providing a faster increase in amino acids than casein.

Caesin – is the most abundant protein in cow’s milk. It has a slower rate of absorption in gastrointestinal tract than whey protein and some people are less able to tolerate casein.

Soybean is one of the only vegetarian sources of complete protein supplying all 8 essential amino acids. There are numerous pro’s and con’s surrounding soy especially in relation to GMO’s and phytates. Please refer to my blog in June 2012 for a detailed discussion on soy. If you have an oestrogen dependant condition or digestive issues please seek professional advice before commencing any form of soy.

Pea protein is good vegetarian protein source and is usually made from mature yellow peas. Like rice is can be an alternative option for those who cannot tolerate dairy based protein powders.

Fermented rice -A good manufacturer will use the spouted endosperm of the bran from raw sprouted whole grain rice. The fermentation process results in the production of enzymes that improve digestion.

The dangers of protein powders 

Firstly you need to consider why you are taking a protein powder instead of actually eating food.

Secondly be very careful about how much protein you consume. Don’t assume that because it is a drink it doesn’t count. Not only will it add to your daily kilo joule intake, too much protein can cause constipation and if taken for an extended period (several months) can detrimentally damage your kidneys and bones and may affect cancer risk and heart disease.

You also need to be very careful about what else is added to the product. Many producers will add additional chemicals such artificial sweeteners, fillers, preservatives and thickeners that are usually unnecessary and in some cases dangerous. An independent 2010 study completed on various protein powders in the US identified heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury in some of the products. So, read all labels very carefully and prefer only pure ingredients with no additives. Avoid products sold over the internet which are not regulated by the TGA.

What to look for –
Prefer ORGANIC or at least non GMO certified natural pea or rice or whey protein powders that do not contain any other additives or fillers.
Be mindful of how often you consume protein powder (needs to be in moderation) and take notice of what else you have with it. For example some people will add protein powder to a smoothie or a meal which is often already high in protein and kilojoules.

Consult professional advice from a qualified Naturopathic practitioner.