As a health and fitness enthusiast, I enjoy using clean protein powders to add to yogurts, oatmeal, smoothies and such, but in the process, I stay far, far away from the worst protein powder ingredients out there. Just because protein powder is a quick, concentrated, easy to use source of protein, doesn’t mean it’s always from a quality source. You can’t ever trust the front of a package when it comes to protein powders either, exactly like you can’t do with any processed food you would buy at the grocery store. No, instead, you’ve got to do a little detective work that takes literally less than a minute. ANY food product out there, highly processed or not, will tell you what you need to know about the quality of that product, all in the ingredients list and not only in the nutrition facts panel, though that is important too. The ingredient list, however will always tell you the truth. It will tell you what is in the product, and what ingredients are heaviest in the product. The first three ingredients on any ingredient list, are what is used the most in a product, including protein powder. So, it makes sense to choose products with as few ingredients as possible, so you’re not putting a chemical concoction in your body of 10-15 ingredients, from one single, concentrated source like protein. To be sure you’re putting clean ingredients in your body when using processed foods like protein powder, always avoid this list of the worst protein powder ingredients out there. They’re found in some of the most highly advertised products on the market, but that means nothing. Stay away from these for what they do to your body.
1. Soy Protein Isolate
I would rank this as one of the top worst protein powder ingredients of all. It’s a cheap source of GMO soy that’s highly refined to produce a cheap, protein powder that isn’t doing your body any favors. It isn’t only highly acidic, but also very allergenic, and can cause a low functioning thyroid as well. Soy protein is not a whole food, nor is it very friendly to your body. It can cause allergies, headaches, inflammation, gout, stomach pain and poor digestion outside of thyroid problems. Avoid it at all costs and always read your label to see if it is in the ingredient list.
It always shocks me how sugar ends up in some of the most highly marketed “health food” products out there. I just don’t get it ! Sugar comes under many names, so check your ingredient list for the following: evaporated cane syrup, dextrose, fructose ( concentrated fruit sugar), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, maple syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, cane sugar, cane syrup, brown sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar, and of course, sugar. Any of those, no matter how “healthy” you believe them to be, are not. They all act like white sugar in the body and will increase your glycemic index, even if they’re more low GI sweeteners. We don’t need sugar to be healthy, especially in the form of a concentrated source like protein powder. We have too many other healthy options today to sweeten our foods without it.
3. Hydrogenated Anything
If you see hydrogenated on the label of a protein powder, put it back on the shelf. It may come in the appearance as “hydrogenated whey protein”, or another form. What it means, is it has been heated at high temperatures, and been denatured, which means it creates a rancid oil in your body, which is a form of trans fats. You absolutely do not need a protein powder that has the word hydrogenated on it.
4. Soybean Oil
Another form of GMO soy to avoid in protein powders is soybean oil. Companies mostly use small amounts of this as an emulsifier, which thickens the protein in your shake, however, it’s such an unnecessary ingredient you can easily avoid and absolutely do not need. There are many other emulsifying agents companies can use besides cheap, acidic, and highly heated soybean oil. Choose another brand, and put options with this ingredient back on the shelf.
Now, you’ll never see this directly given on an ingredient list, but if you look right below the ingredients list, there’s a little piece of info that will say “ Allergy Warnings”, and it will tell you if that product contains any of the major allergens, including gluten. Always choose options that advertise themselves as gluten-free and are clean otherwise as well, or look on the ingredient panel and allergy information inclusion to make sure wheat or gluten isn’t listed.
6. Soy Protein
Another form of soy to avoid besides just soy protein isolate and soybean oil, is straight soy protein. It’s not uncommon for it to be included in many whey protein products, along with many vegan protein powders. Always choose soy-free protein powders. Even if companies use non-GMO sources of soy, soy is highly refined and damaging to the thyroid in such a concentrated form.
7. Whole Milk Powder
Whole milk powder is found in many casein protein powders, used for bulking and helping body builders put on weight quickly. I always suggest avoiding this unless you want to gain a lot of weight quickly. On the other hand, whey protein isolate, or grass fed whey, is a form of milk that can actually help you lose weight,but is the only form of milk protein I’d ever recommend.
8. Non-sprouted Rice Protein
Rice protein powder is popular among many vegetarians, but if you’re going to select rice protein, select one that contains sprouted brown rice protein powder, not just “ rice protein”. This ensures you’re getting the most nutritious part of the protein, and that the carbs in the rice have been reduced through the sprouting process, to make it higher in protein. When rice protein is sprouted, it changes in genetic makeup to become more bioavailable to the body, and also becomes higher in protein than carbohydrates, which lowers the GI effect and increases the nutritional profile.
This ingredient is the least harmful of all, but still one I would always suggest avoiding. It’s basically refined corn, most likely from a GMO source, that’s used as a sweetener. Maltodextrin increases sugar cravings, regardless that it’s low in sugar. It has been proven to raise glycemic index levels, just like sugar does. Always avoid it, whenever possible. It’s used in everything from some brands of stevia, to many protein powders. Just like you should avoid stevia products that contain it, and other processed foods, you should also avoid it in protein powders. Choose protein powders that only use stevia as the sweetener. It will always say maltodextrin, if it is included in the product, in any form. Read your label, so you can avoid it.
10. Artificial Sweeteners
Sucralose, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners should always be avoided when buying protein powders. They’re damaging to your body and actually lower the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Definitely not something I’m looking to let happen, what about you? Select options that only use stevia as the sweetener instead. Some of the most highly advertised and most expensive protein powders still use unhealthy, cheap artificial sweeteners. Without reading your label, you won’t know if yours does or not.
11. Too Many Gums
One thing I try to avoid at all costs when buying protein powders is a huge list of gums. You’ll see these in the form of xanthan gum, inulin, and guar gum. Now, using one or two of those in a product isn’t a bad thing, but if you see them all listed, try considering another source. Though they’re typically from healthy ingredients, they’re only used as fillers in the product to help thicken them up. I don’t mind using products that use one of these ingredients, but do try to avoid those that have them all. I don’t want to spend my money on fillers, but instead, want to spend it on a clean protein powder.
Now, if you’re wondering what my favorite brands of protein are that are free from these ingredients and some of the best on the market, here you go! I like Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Raw Protein Powder in Vanilla, Vega One, SFH Pure Whey, Jarrow Formulas Organic Whey Protein, Tera’s Whey Organic Protein, and Philosophie Raw Whey Protein. All of these are some of the cleanest on the market, contain only the best ingredients and if they are from whey sources, they are strictly from grass fed, organic whey only. You can check them all out in the links below. If you have a favorite protein powder free of these ingredients, do you mind sharing it?