Written by Matt Frazier. A model of this text was initially printed on nomeatathlete.com

Over the years, we’ve talked lots about protein: How a lot you want, how you can get it from meals, and whether or not or not you need to complement.

And there’s no one-size-fits-all reply to that final query…

Although I’ve managed to get loads of protein from complete meals for the previous few years, I’ve all the time acknowledged that for sure folks — individuals who need to add muscle, attempt to hit macronutrient ranges, or simply need some peace of thoughts — supplementing makes extra sense. 

But for those who take protein powder your self, there’s one query you need to most positively know the reply to: 

What’s in your protein powder?

I began trying extra intently at protein powders a couple of months in the past, for my youngsters’ sake. They’re each younger plant-based athletes, and — name it parental paranoia if you’d like — I discover myself worrying about their choosy consuming habits, particularly that many of the meals they love (recent vegatables and fruits, particularly in smoothies) aren’t essentially dense in protein or, extra typically, in complete energy.

But once I began trying on the ingredient lists of the widespread plant-based powders, I used to be shocked and disenchanted. Unfamiliar and synthetic elements, plus sweeteners (even pure ones) that I knew they wouldn’t just like the style of in their smoothies.

So I did some extra digging… 

And it acquired worse. Waaay worse. 

Today I need to share a bit about what I discovered, in hopes that it lets you make extra knowledgeable selections when selecting a protein powder, for those who select to make use of them. 

And I’ll begin with the one which scares me probably the most… 

1. Heavy Metals and Other Carcinogens

Now, I do know what you’re considering.

Heavy metals and chemical substances in my protein powder? Nah. No means. I get the great things. And it comes from crops. 

Think once more. Last yr, the Clean Label Project™ accomplished a examine inspecting 134 plant-based and animal-based protein powder merchandise from 52 totally different manufacturers. They screened for over 130 toxins, together with heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and different contaminants with ties to well being issues.  

And what they discovered? (You may need to sit down for this one.)

Many of the preferred plant-based powders had been ranked the worst for his or her excessive ranges of contaminants like heavy metals. In truth, plant-based proteins ranked decrease than animal-based proteins on common. 

So how does that nasty stuff get into your powder? 

According to Clean Label Project, “Contaminants are the result of sourcing and production practices. Contaminants can be found in soils because of pesticides and mining run-off (ex. heavy metals) and can be absorbed into plants just like nutrients. They can also be the result of the manufacturing process (ex. BPA/BPS is using the lining of cans and containers and leach into the protein powder.)”

Let’s take a more in-depth have a look at a number of the most typical heavy metals and chemical substances to see what the examine really discovered: 

BPA (bisphenol A)

By now you’ve in all probability heard of BPA, however most individuals don’t really know what it’s. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical used in numerous business product packaging as a approach to strengthen the plastic. 

High quantities of BPA, nevertheless, are identified to trigger cancerous tumors, beginning defects, and different psychological and bodily well being points. 

A number of years in the past, BPA garnered numerous consideration when it was found to leach from plastic into drinks, like water. Since then, many fashionable water bottles have gone BPA-free, however it’s nonetheless generally used in many meals containers, together with some plastic containers that retailer protein powder, and even the plastic measuring scoop usually included in the bathtub. 

The Clean Label Project examine discovered that 55% of protein powders examined had excessive ranges of BPA, and one had over 25 instances the allowed regulatory restrict in only one serving. 


According to the examine, almost 70% of plant-based protein powders contained measurable quantities of lead. The potential psychological and bodily well being issues related to lead are effectively documented, so why is it displaying up in these protein powders?

The major downside appears to be the place the elements are sourced from. Lead in the bottom seeps into the rising meals earlier than harvesting and stays there because it’s was your powder. 


Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical usually discovered in water, meals, and soil. 

This is a specific downside with rice-based merchandise, which is grown in water-flooded situations, and arsenic in the soil finds its means into the roots of rice crops and is ultimately saved in the grains.

Arsenic, after all, can be identified to trigger plenty of well being issues together with most cancers. 

So why is it in plant-based protein powder? Primarily due to poorly sourced rice protein isolate. 


According to the identical Clean Label Project examine, 74% of protein powders contained measurable quantities of cadmium.  

Cadmium is one other pure poisonous aspect usually discovered in rocks and soil, and since it doesn’t corrode simply, it’s usually used in batteries. That’s proper, batteries. 

And you guessed it, cadmium additionally has hyperlinks to most cancers. 

But what if my powder is natural? 

That was considered one of my first questions as effectively. But natural, though good for different causes, is not any assist in the case of heavy metals. Organic protein powders had on common twice the quantity of heavy metals as non-organic choices, so if a model doesn’t disclose heavy steel info to you, you’re left questioning. 

2. Sweeteners and Flavorings

These days, sweeteners are added to only about each processed meals, so it ought to come as no shock that they’re additionally usually added to protein powders. 

But right here’s the factor. 

Sweeteners are completely pointless. Same goes with flavors (pure or not) like vanilla. The solely cause firms usually provides the sweeteners and flavors is to attempt to masks the style. 

In flip, nevertheless, they’re including unnatural elements that not solely style pretend, however are probably dangerous. 

Take a have a look at widespread synthetic sweeteners like acesulfame potassium, sucralose, or splenda, for instance. These sweeteners with their potent style not solely prepare the mind to crave candy meals, however are identified to extend the chance of heart problems and weight problems. 

How about pure sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit, you ask? 

In my opinion, if it isn’t serving me (or my youngsters), I don’t need to add it to my smoothie, the place the extra sweetness solely makes issues style much less pure. I need my smoothie to style just like the fruit that’s in it, and no sweeter.  

3. Fillers, Preservatives, and Gums

While the contaminants scare me most, the most important shocker I got here throughout in my analysis on protein powders was what I realized about fillers. 

First, there’s a cause you don’t see percentages subsequent to protein powder elements on labels.

Many manufacturers, just like the one I used to take, boast a “blend of pea, rice, hemp, and chia” (for instance) to create the looks of a whole amino acid profile. But in the event that they’re not telling you the quantities of every in the product, then nothing prevents them from utilizing 95 and even 99 p.c of the most affordable powder, and solely mixing the others to make up the remaining 5 p.c or much less. 

There’s nothing to inform you it’s just about only one sort of protein. And that the amino acid profile is incomplete.

In an business so unregulated as dietary supplements are, it’s not exhausting to think about that’s what they do.

Besides low cost proteins, dextrin (a carbohydrate from starch) and maltodextrin (produced from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat) are widespread fillers added to protein powder to bulk it up. 

Then there are gums, like xanthan gum, which is derived from corn and soy and infrequently used as a thickener in protein energy. These gums are completely pointless and a few folks can discover them exhausting to tolerate.

Lax labeling necessities imply you possibly can’t actually really feel assured about what’s in your powder. Sure, you might need an ordered ingredient record, however once you don’t know the way a lot of every ingredient is included, you don’t have any thought in case your powder is actually what it claims to be. 

Where This Leaves Us

When it involves protein, one of the best place to get it’s from meals. And for many individuals, that’s not exhausting to perform. If you eat a healthful food plan primarily based round actual meals, then in the overwhelming majority of circumstances that can go away with greater than sufficient. (And maintain in thoughts, the typical American will get about twice as a lot protein as they want – and in the industrialized world, extra protein consumption is inflicting vastly extra illness than insufficient protein.)

But for those who’re over 65 or extremely energetic, and vegetarian or vegan, then it’s possible you’ll need to think about supplementing – particularly for those who don’t embrace soy, gluten, or considerable legumes in your food plan. 

If you select to make use of a protein complement, one of the best wager is to search for one that’s absolutely compliant with California’s tremendous stringent Prop 65 necessities. That means, any heavy metals and different carcinogens current are lower than zero.1% of the “No Observable Effects Level” set by California. And bear in mind, you might be searching for manufacturers that explicitly state that they adjust to California’s proposition 65 – not simply in California, however in all places else, too!

And be certain that to learn the label to insure that the protein you’re getting is natural and is freed from any undesirable sweeteners, flavorings, chemical substances, preservatives, fillers and gums that you just don’t need. Bonus factors if it makes use of a spread of protein sources, tells you the way a lot of every is included, and has a various amino acid profile.

A protein complement isn’t for everyone. In truth, it isn’t even for most individuals. But for those who’re somebody who may profit from it, then the way in which I see it, you should know the details so that you aren’t spending an arm and a leg (newsflash: most protein dietary supplements aren’t precisely low cost!) to purchase a product that may wind up doing extra hurt than good. 

Editor’s Note

The writer of  this text, No Meat Athlete founder Matt Frazier, was so annoyed by what the realized when he researched the protein powder choices available on the market, that he determined to take motion. He developed a plant-based, natural, non-GMO protein powder that’s low in heavy metals, and that he might be ok with giving to his personal youngsters. And now he’s sharing it with the remainder of us, too. If you need to discover out extra, click on right here. (If you make a purchase order from this hyperlink, you’ll get a particular Food Revolution Network low cost, and Matt may also make a contribution to assist the work of Food Revolution Network. Thank you!)

Tell Us In The Comments:

  • Do you utilize protein powder?
  • What do you want or not like in a protein powder?
  • Are there any manufacturers of protein powder you gained’t ever use? If so, why?

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