It's not just bodybuilders, athletes, and health nuts consuming protein powders these days – vegetarians, pregnant women, immune-compromised individuals and kids with picky palates are in on it too. Otherwise smart folks are scooping powdered protein into morning shakes and baking it into muffins in the name of health, fitness, and longevity.
Otherwise smart folks are scooping powdered protein into morning shakes and baking it into muffins in the name of health, fitness, and longevity.
So are protein powders an absurd invention of modernity or a healthy convenience food?
What's wrong with protein powders?
According to Sally Fallon of the Weston A Price Foundation, the process of making protein powders often requires extremely high heat which overly denatures the proteins (as opposed to the normal denaturing that happens during digestion or cooking) to such an extent that they become virtually useless while increasing nitrates, MSG, and other carcinogens.
While this makes perfect sense to me, there are plenty of folks out there that will argue this point and an increasing number of supplement companies that now offer ‘non-denatured' products.
Personally, I'm in the camp that thinks that any dehydrated, powdered food with prolonged shelf-life is probably not really a food.
When it comes to the down-side of protein powders – be they organic, hemp, whey, soy, etc – the point that I find most compelling is that protein should not be consumed regularly without a proportionate amount of its naturally occurring fat – this means lean meat and protein powders are simply a no-no unless also supplemented with healthy saturated fats. The saturated fat and fat soluble vitamins in dairy and meat help the body to properly use the protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Too much protein and too little fat can cause a negative calcium balance that can lead to bone weakness (insufficient vitamin K2), eye problems (from insufficient vitamin A), immune issues (commonly linked to insufficient vitamin D), and other health conditions resulting from excessive ‘lean' protein consumption.
So does anyone need extra protein?
The basic answer here is no.
But for individuals who are not consuming enough protein, a powdered supplement is usually not the best choice.
The older generation is often wrongly advised to supplement their diets with protein powders to prevent the diseases and degeneration of old age. But without significant saturated fats and fat soluble vitamins excessive protein will cause more harm than good.
Instead, I would suggest that grandma and grandpa enjoy the traditional diets of their childhoods – soups made with homemade bone broth, plenty of pastured butter and eggs, grass-fed meats and dairy, and seasonal produce.
Supplementation with cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil, and therapeutic consumption of bone broths will ensure optimal health far more than powdered protein in any form.
Pregnant and nursing women?
It IS true that pregnant women need more protein, but they also need more fat and carbohydrates too. In simple terms, pregnant women need more food. So a good rule of thumb is for expectant mamas to eat at least two eggs per day, plenty of full fat dairy from grass fed cows, full fat coconut milk and oil, and high quality meat or fish daily.
Often during the first trimester, morning sickness prevents pregnant women from eating anything that resembles healthy food, and convenience foods such as protein shakes can sometimes offer easy, palatable nutrition. Plus, protein-packed snacks consumed throughout the day can help take the edge off of nausea and vomiting.
For these women, I would urge them to first try adding egg yolks, full fat yogurt, and/or fresh whey to smoothies and other drinks (perhaps having someone else make them in order to avoid the gag-factor). Snack on slices of cheese, hard boiled eggs, or small handfuls of properly prepared nuts.
If a powdered protein shake still seems like the only doable option, choose a non-denatured, minimally processed powder – grass fed whey or organic hemp – and be sure to also supplement with plenty of cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil which will provide essential fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 plus omega 3 fats necessary for the health and development of both mom and baby.
I know plenty of parents of picky kids who swear by a daily smoothie to get nearly all of their child's nutrition in for the day – protein powder, supplements, veggies – anything that needs to be disguised is whipped up in a blender with some kid-friendly fruit and maybe some natural sweetener.
But instead of protein powder, why not add an egg yolk from a pastured hen or fresh liquid whey to the daily drink? And don't forget some extra fat – a few spoonfuls of coconut oil can usually go undetected.
An important note here: Moderate pickiness in kids is normal – it's a sign of their flexing wills. But extreme pickiness may be a sign of digestive weakness and gut flora imbalance which can be corrected with the help of a qualified practitioner that specializes in healing food sensitivities.
GAPS and the selective carbohydrate diets are two examples of such therapeutic programs.
I am going to avoid any meat versus plant discussion in this particular post, but suffice to say that vegetarians need to take special care to consume enough protein and especially saturated fats since much of a vegetarian diet is dominantly carbohydrates (legumes, grains, fruit, and veggies).
That said, protein powders are not essential for a vegetarian to get enough protein. Instead, eat plenty of coconut fat and avocados as well as properly prepared legumes, nuts, and grains. If your diet allows, be sure to include plenty of eggs from pastured hens and grass-fed, full-fat dairy.
If your diet allows, be sure to include plenty of eggs from pastured hens and grass-fed, full-fat dairy.
If you are a bodybuilder and your sole goal is to pack on an unnatural amount of muscle mass, concentrated protein may be necessary for frequent and efficient muscle repair. But in this case, why not add REAL whey, eggs from pastured hens, full fat dairy, or even raw liver from grass fed animals to your smoothies rather than the dried, over processed whey?
Eat more protein – eggs, meat, and fish. And while you're at it, be sure to supplement with high doses of cod liver oil, high vitamin butter oil, and daily coconut oil to counter-balance the protein loading.
The bottom line about protein powders:
Protein powders are generally unnecessary and often toxic. When too much protein is consumed without saturated fat, a myriad of health problems can occur. Eat Real Food.
Photo credit for top image: Caza_No_7