Protein Powder Primer: Whey or No Whey?
I have many clients who tell me they want to cut back on meat but they are worried about getting enough protein every day. I tell them about the great, delicious vegetarian sources of whole food protein available to them, including chickpeas, quinoa, coconut milk, beans, brown rice, and miso. If they still crave something meaty, wild salmon or organic chicken are superior to red meat.
Incorporating these great foods into daily meals will give a person sufficient useable protein to meet the body’s needs. While some people will choose cheese or milk for their protein fix they often complain about feeling bloated, gassy and congested. Others want to know about protein powders and this is what I tell them.
Protein powders can provide a quick and effective supplement to a healthy diet. They should never be used to replace a balanced meal but in today’s hectic world, a berry smoothie with protein powder is a better option than a coffee and muffin at the nearest drive-thru. Like any food product or health supplement, there are reputable brands and there is junk. Read the entire label to find out how much genuine food product you are getting in comparison to fillers, sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors. If you see these ingredients, put it back on the shelf and move on to the next option. And if you see any “isolated protein” steer clear.
When reading the package, you may notice that some protein powders include whey, which is usually derived from dairy sources like cow’s milk and goat milk. Proponents of whey protein conclude that these protein powders offer a wider spectrum of amino acids than non-whey products. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they are used to strengthen, repair and rebuild our bodies. Some amino acids are heat sensitive so cooking or processing with heat will destroy them (think meat). Since they contain dairy, these powders are not an option for vegans or people with dairy allergies or sensitivities. Dairy consumption has been linked to the problems mentioned above and can increase inflammation in the body. Dairy products can also contain hormones and antibiotics used on livestock.
I prefer vegetarian protein powders over whey. Vegetarian protein powders can be sourced from a variety of plants, including peas, hemp, rice, pumpkin and soy. Soy has been linked to allergies so I would recommend trying some of the other types first, as well as choosing a product that is organic, or if that is not possible, one that does not contain genetically-modified organisms. Extreme muscle-building types may argue that vegetarian proteins don’t contain the full spectrum of amino acids needed to “pump you up” but there are many successful vegan and vegetarian athletes and body builders who would disagree. Regardless, protein powder is a supplement, not a meal. Nothing in a bottle or jar can replace fresh, nutrient-rich, protein-rich foods at every meal.
My protein powder recipe of choice is:
Protein-Packed Blueberry Banana Smoothie
1 cup of almond milk
1 cup of almond yogurt
1/2 of a frozen banana
˝ cup of blueberries or strawberries
1 heaping tablespoon of organic hemp or pumpkin protein powder
Blend all ingredients together for a delicious smoothie.
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