by Emy Breitenwischer, B.S. in Food Science & Nutrition, Concentration in Dietetics & Nutrition Management
When people are in a time crunch, they don’t have the luxury to sit down and enjoy a meal, and often times will settle for something quick and processed. Unfortunately, processed foods end up leaving us tired, hungry and sometimes cranky.. So what’s a better solution? A protein shake, which is filling and nutritious. Protein shakes are easy to prepare and they actually keep you full and energized. However, if you’re not familiar with protein powders, it may be overwhelming with all the options to choose from. Often times, the consumer doesn’t even know what makes one brand different from another, which could result in an unsatisfactory product or indigestion problems. I’m going to explain a few of the more popular options below, along with the pros and cons.
This is probably one of the most common and cheapest protein powders found on the market. Whey supplements are dairy based (liquid byproduct from cheese production) with little to no fat and contain a range of vitamins and minerals. A lot of athletes seem to use this product as a post-workout supplement to repair and increase muscle strength because it is digested quickly and absorbed rapidly. There are three types of whey protein: whey protein concentrate (low levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates), whey protein isolate (further processed to remove all fat and lactose), and hydrolyzed (further processed to predigest some of the protein for easier absorption; commonly used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas).
While this may be an ideal choice for some (as it can taste better than some veggie proteins) whey protein can cause digestive issues in many people, such as indigestion, abdominal pain, gas/bloating and diarrhea from the lactose present. Because whey provides no fiber, constipation may also result. Also, with dairy products, there may be a risk for possible contamination with hormones and antibiotics.
My personal opinion – There are better, healthier options out there. Whey proteins may also contain artificial sweeteners and chemicals. Make sure to read the label.
Casein Protein Powder
Casein powder isn’t as popular as whey, but similar in many ways. It’s derived from dairy and is the primary protein in cow’s milk. Casein is different because it digests much slower due to the interaction with stomach acids, therefore, a slower release of proteins into the body, making it a less optimal choice for a post-workout supplement (when you want nutrients quickly).
Because this contains dairy, one may experience the same digestive problems as whey protein. Dr. Frank Lipman (an Integrative and Functional Medical Expert) also states that the slow digestion rate of this protein puts great strain on the digestive system because it is very difficult for the body to break down. Not only could you experience digestive problems, but also excess mucus production, skin issues and/or respiratory problems. Casein is more expensive than whey and often contains artificial ingredients to make it taste better.
My personal opinion- Yikes, research doesn’t make casein look like an optimal choice. Pass.
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein is a 100% plant based protein made from yellow peas. It is a great option for vegetarians and vegans; however, it is not considered a complete protein, so it may not be an ideal choice for those wishing to gain muscle mass. This type of protein is easy to digest, hypoallergenic, includes few additives and artificial ingredients, and contains soluble fiber, which can help keep you fuller longer. Pea protein is more environmentally friendly because it uses fewer resources to create.
My Personal Opinion- I really like Pea Protein. It has a slight nutty and naturally sweet taste with a fluffy texture. It is delicious in smoothies and one of my top choices.
Soy Protein Powder
This protein is created from soybeans, which is a plant based “complete” protein. While some fermented soy products may contain nutritional value, soy is often genetically modified and may negatively impact hormone levels on people. Soy is a low cost protein and is processed at high temperatures, which can damage the protein and make it harder to break down in the intentional tract causing GI problems. It’s recommended to consume soy in moderation and that one should not have soy be their sole protein source.
My Personal Opinion- Too much of anything can be harmful to the body, so I don’t think occasionally this option would be bad, but I feel soy should be avoided all together due to GMOs and potential hormone problems.
Hemp Protein Powder
This “superfood” protein powder is made from hemp seeds of the cannabis plant and is considered a plant based complete protein. Although it is one of the more expensive protein powders to choose from, there are no fillers or additives, it’s high in omega 6s & 3s, fiber & good bacteria to help with digestion. It’s also hypoallergenic and vegan friendly. If you’re aiming to lose weight, hemp protein may not be the right choice for you due to its high fat and calorie content. This unsweetened powder is a little gritty with an earthy, nutty flavor.
My Personal Opinion- This is a wonderful, healthy option if you can afford it and find the taste palatable. Personally, the flavor and texture was too much for my taste buds, but you should definitely try at least once!
Brown Rice Protein Powder
While many people equate brown rice to a carbohydrate, it does contain protein that is extracted to make a vegetarian and vegan friendly protein powder. Although it’s not a “complete protein”, it does contain antioxidants, natural fiber, and is allergy friendly (no dairy, soy or gluten). This protein is high in leucine, an amino acid that’s vital for muscle recovery, making it a good option for post-exercise shakes.
My Personal Opinion: I’ve never tried solely brown rice protein, but it sounds like a good, tasty option.
Vegan Protein Powder
I’ve saved the best for last. Vegan protein powders are typically a blend of plant-based proteins, such as brown rice, hemp, pea and chia proteins. My favorite vegan powder is Orgain Protein Powder, which is a combination of the plant proteins previously listed. The reason this brand is my #1 is because it is organic, gluten free, soy free, contains no added sugar and tastes amazing. Two scoops (1 serving) is only 150 calories, yet still delivers 21 grams of protein. There are many other vegan brands to choose from, so just remember to avoid artificial sweeteners and flavors and added sugars.
My Personal Opinion: My #1 choice over all protein powders. The taste is so smooth and delicious. I love adding a scoop to my oatmeal or 2 scoops in a shake with some coconut milk and a couple strawberries for a quick meal on the go.