As a health coach, I think one of the things I am asked about the most is protein powders and shakes. My clients take pictures of labels and send them to me to make sure they’re healthy. “Is this one ok?” they ask. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve probably looked at 100 labels or more. And I’m so happy to do it because there are a lot—and I mean A LOT—of poorly made products on the market these days. And I do not want my clients to sabotage their health with unhealthy ingredients.
So, I’d like to give you a list of some of what I consider to be the worst ingredients found in various protein powders/shakes. As you know, I’m a big fan of getting protein from real food, but if you can’t get enough from food because of allergies or busyness, or maybe you need a quick pre or post-workout snack, then yes, I’m a big fan of supplementing because protein is that important.
However, when shopping, you have to read labels carefully. Even though protein is essential, a product with 25 grams of protein isn’t doing you any good if it has a bunch of bogus ingredients in it that are ruining your gut health, causing inflammation, disrupting your blood sugars, and filling you with toxins. So, here are my own personal “No-Nos” that I stay clear of:
Refined vegetable oils – things like canola, sunflower, soybean, safflower, or corn oil that are hydrogenated and cause inflammation. We’ve already talked a lot about why these are unhealthy, but it’s important to know they are often added to protein powders and shakes because they’re cheap to produce.
Shelf stabilizers – Be on the lookout for things like carrageenan. Some researchers link carrageenan to things like suppressed immune function, ulcerative colitis, even colorectal cancer. In fact, it has been demonstrated that when guinea pigs are supplied with degraded carrageenan in their drinking water, ulcerations develop in 100% of the animals in their large intestine by the end of 30 days. (9)
Artificial Sweeteners – Things like sucralose, aspartame, Acesulfame K, Saccharin, and high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and corn syrup solids. If you see any of these listed on the label, PUT IT BACK! Here is a blog outlining my reasoning on this.
Soy proteins – Some soy proteins come from genetically modified sources and contain chemical compounds that can cause hormonal disturbances.
Casein – While casein is not in itself bad for you (natural casein does have several health benefits), casein protein powder is often made in a lab using high heat or acid to extract the protein from the dairy. Therefore, it can contain toxic residues. What’s more, heating casein at hot temperatures destroys certain amino acids in it. This “denatures” the protein, so it cannot be fully absorbed by the body. By the time it reaches the colon (undigested), it can start to ferment and produce ammonia. Casein also contains an opioid peptide that acts on opioid receptors in the body (the same opioid receptors that heroin and morphine act on.) This is why some people claim they have an “addiction to dairy,” and can’t give it up. The peptide can also cause inflammation in the GI tract and can kill healthy gut flora.
Skim milk powders and milk solids – These ingredients are basically used to add “bulk” to cheap powders. So, when you see these listed, it should serve as a red flag that the protein powder is not of the highest quality. Powdered milk goes through many processes. In addition to being pasteurized, it is also usually filtered, evaporated, separated, and standardized, until at last it is heated at a high temperature and dried into a powder. Again, this is denatured and therefore, not digested well.
I know, the above list might sound daunting, especially if you love making protein shakes. I get it. I LOVE shakes, too. But don’t worry. You don’t have to give them up just because there are so many low-quality products on the market. They’re not ALL bad.
I personally use the Plexus Lean™ protein powders (in Chocolate and Vanilla), which are some of the highest-quality protein powders I’ve ever seen. Plexus Lean™ has ingredients I feel confident about. For example, the Plexus Lean™ Whey (chocolate and vanilla flavors) contain the following:
24 g of protein when prepared as directed, which includes a complete amino acid profile, including BCAAs like leucine, isoleucine, and valine (but not a high-dose free form of BCAAS, like some other supplements)
5 g of fiber, including prebiotic fiber to support digestive health (I’ll talk more about the importance of this in later chapters.)
bioavailable forms of 24 vitamins and minerals
highly bioavailable methylated folate (5-MTHF)
digestive enzymes to aid in the digestion of whey protein
lecithin, a source of choline, to support brain health
Vitamin C to help fight free radical damage and help support a healthy immune system
What’s important to note is that Plexus Lean contains an rBGH-Free whey protein. rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is a hormone made in a lab using genetic technology. It is a synthetic version of bovine somatotropin (BST), which is naturally produced in cows’ pituitary glands. Monsanto developed this synthetic version from genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. (9) Today it is often injected into cows in order to boost milk production.
However, when cows are injected with rBGH, their levels of IGF-1 increase up to 20-fold. (9) IGF-1 is a hormone that acts on the pituitary gland that affects many things in the metabolic system. This IGF-1 is excreted in the cow’s milk, and over the last three decades, about 50 scientific publications have documented that increased IGF-1 levels in hormone-treated milk increase your risk for breast, colon, and prostate cancers. (10)
This is one of the many reasons I choose Plexus. Because “rBGH-free whey” means the protein in Plexus Lean™ comes from animals that did not receive these hormones. What’s more, whey protein is more thermogenic than any other protein, and has a host of other benefits:
Whey protein increases total liver glutathione levels, which is a potent antioxidant (11)
Whey protein promotes fat loss by enhancing the release of glucagon (builds muscle, burns fat) (12)
Whey protein can boost energy expenditure by 80 to 100 calories per day and help people eat up to 441 fewer calories per day. One study showed that by eating 25% of daily calories in protein, it cut cravings by 60% and reduced late-night snacking by half. (13)
Lean Whey is also sweetened with healthy coconut palm sugar which ranks low on the GI index. But I think the thing I love the most about Plexus Lean™ Whey is the taste. I consider myself to be somewhat of a “protein connoisseur,” as I have tried many (and I mean MANY) brands and flavors over the years. Often, protein powders give me a chalky aftertaste. Lean does not, and is quite frankly the best-tasting protein powder I’ve tried, hands down.
If you need a non-GMO, vegan option (also free of soy and gluten), you may want to consider Plexus Lean™ Vegan in Vanilla or Chocolate flavor. The following are what I consider to be its top-selling points:
20 grams of ultra-pure, plant-based, non-GMO protein from pea, rice, and six ancient grains (sacha inchi, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, chia)
Seven grams of dietary fiber, including prebiotic fiber like Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), Alpha-galactooligosaccharides (GOS), Xylooligosaccharides (XOS) to aid digestion and feed the good bacteria in the gut. (I’ll talk more about this in the next phase.)
Two grams of leucine for muscle support per serving (which has a much greater power to stimulate protein synthesis than any other amino acid.)
Bacillus subtilis to help produce enzymes like amylase, protease, pullulanase, chitinase, xylanase, and lipase
Ananas comosus which is beneficial for reproductive health, digestion, and hunger control
Highly bioactive 5-MTHF Folate that we talked about in the last chapter.
Highly bioavailable and bioactive forms of other vitamins like B-Vitamins, Calcium, Vitamins A, D, and Zinc, among others
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), a plant-based Omega-3 fatty acid
All forms of Plexus Lean™ are free of artificial flavors, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, cholesterol, carrageenan, and magnesium stearate. But even that’s not the best part.
For every serving of Plexus Lean you purchase (there are 14 servings in each package), Plexus®, through its philanthropic organization Plexus Charities, gives a contribution to Feeding America®—the nation’s largest organization dedicated to fighting domestic hunger through a network of food banks. So you’re getting healthy and helping to feed others who need nourishing as well. That’s a win-win, in my opinion. I don’t know of another protein that allows you to do that.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the information on this site is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Stacy Mal is not a doctor and does not give medical advice, prescribe medication, or diagnose illness. Stacy is a certified health coach, journalist, and independent Plexus ambassador. These are her personal beliefs and are not the beliefs of Plexus Worldwide or any other named professional. If you have a medical condition or health concern, it is advised that you see your physician immediately. It is also recommended that you consult your doctor before implementing any new health strategy or taking any new supplements. Results may vary.
Excerpt taken from Rebuilding Your Temple: Blueprints for True and Lasting Health by Stacy Mal