You may or may not know that I used to work in advertising on Fortune 500 consumer brands. Yes, the stuff you find in your bathroom, closet and kitchen cabinets. I’m planning to write an in-depth article about how advertisers make people buy things they never wanted – just because the story is that good and it touches our deepest fears and aspirations.
To start, here is a quick blog post which I hope will help you navigate the waters of the holy grail (of many) food makers and advertisers: PROTEIN POWDERS.
About 60-70% of people who start working with me regularly drink some kind of a protein powder. When I ask them to put it away for just a few days, I hear a moment of silence, hesitation and then the inevitable question comes up: “Yes, but where would I now get my proteins and nutrients from?”
This is what I mean by brilliance and danger of marketing.
How did we get proteins and nutrients intro our bodies before protein powders were invented?
If you have been following me for a while you know that I promote a clean, unadulterated way of eating as the foundation of healing and rebalancing your hormones.
So, when I see things that you are putting in your body that are synthetic, manipulative and outright unhealthy, I have a civic sense of obligation to say something. And say plenty I will!
Here is why.
What is wrong with protein powders?
#1 – Protein powders are highly processed
“Our body was designed to only eat real food” – Dr Mark Hyman
“Anything ‘partly’ and ‘isolate’ is not real food” – Dr Mercola.
Take coca and cocaine. Cocaine is made from coca, right? Coca leaves have been chewed for generations by the natives of the high Andes for a boost of clean energy. Cocaine, on the other hand, is an isolate of coca leaves, and you probably know (hopefully not first hand) what prolonged usage of cocaine does to your body. Same product, right? But see how differently your body would respond to it? This is the same thing with rice in its real, whole-food form versus “rice protein powder.”
What about protein powders that carry the claim of “low temperature”? Although less damaging, low heat still alters the protein on a molecular level, rendering the food as unrecognizable by our bodies.
Furthermore, many manufacturers add synthetic and toxic ingredients to their products. It’s not uncommon to find aspartame, saccharin, fructose and artificial colors.
One other interesting thing is: processed protein powders may also contain large amounts of MSG as a natural result (or by-product) of separating protein from its food source during manufacturing. You won’t find it in the ingredients list as it’s a naturally occurring by-product and the FDA does not require it to be listed. That is shameful but the current reality of product labeling in the United States.
What about pea protein – is the frequent question many would ask. The pea protein folks feel somewhat above everyone else as they have been promised the supremacy of their products. The answer is in the above paragraphs and nothing will make it better. You will know when you give it up for a few days, replace it with real food and see how much better you feel.
What about brand A, B or C? Is another question. After all, your brand has promised you to be superior to all other brands because … [insert reasons of supremacy here]. It’s their job to convince you to eat it. The same way a pharmaceutical company will say that Lipitor is the only way to bring down cholesterol levels or Synthroid is the only way to manage a thyroid condition.
#2 – Eating concentrated protein without fats is useless if not harmful
Also, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we need fat for calcium to be absorbed. So the question is, what happens with all the calcium promised in the protein powder when the powder is mixed with water and there is no fat to metabolize it? And the answer is simple; it gets deposited in your bones but not in the way you want it; I’m talking about calcified deposits in the joints that hurt.
My mom was put on a cheap version of calcium supplements without vitamin B, K2, D and fats – after 3 weeks she developed severe joint pain.
You might be now wondering: “Why not just add fat to my smoothie?” That makes total sense except that the protein has been so denatured that adding fat at this point won’t guarantee the absorption.
#3 – Digestive Upset
Having worked with so many women (about 70% of them drinking protein powders regularly before working with me), weak digestion is an ongoing issue. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas and bloating. When she stops adding synthetic food like the protein shakes and powders, one of the immediate benefits are: calmer digestion and stable sugar levels. The reasons of the how and why this happens can be many:
- the food is highly processed and your body is struggling to break it down
- it may be due to whey and/or casein content which you could have an allergy or food intolerance to
- it may contain soy, eggs or corn which many people struggle with
- it may be due to the various sweeteners used such as maltodextrin, or alcohol sugars such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol which can cause digestive issues for some.
If you have not read it, I wrote a whole article about how digestion impacts your hormones.
#4 – Protein powders may contain heavy metals
#5 – Protein powders can damage organs and cause death (in bodybuilders)
Marketing brilliance and dangers you need to be aware of
The former marketing hit man in me seeks redemption, so here we go:
- “Doctor-recommended” – I know that many respected doctors push protein powders and some have their own brands. Here is the reality: it’s a business. They need solid sources of revenue to sustain their businesses and people they hire. And, they want to offer us free content on their website. But, something needs to pay for it, right? Well, supplements and protein powders are the easiest sell, a source of repeated revenues and they are pretty harmless if combined with the message of “eat real food, too.”
- “Low heat used” – as seen above, it makes no difference, it’s still processed.
- “Fortified” – another word for “more synthetic and chemically-enhanced vitamins added.”
- “Board-certified” – don’t fall for this. The brands I used to work on would create their own “institutes,” “associations” and “boards” and certify their own product. It’s a joke.
- Celebrity-endorsed – please, please, please do not fall for this. It does NOT matter. Let me assure you that the celebs don’t drink this stuff. Most of them have amazing real-food chefs whipping out the freshest meals possible.
- “As seen on Dr. Oz” – many brands use the Dr Oz brand to sell their products – most of them are fraudulent claims and you should not be navigating your health journey by listening to marketing claims of people who are profiting from it.
Why I’m so against protein powders and shakes?
Having done this work for a number of years, I see EVERY person I work with starting to feel wonderful when they drop any synthetic food and switch over to real food. I would encourage you to do the same. Just for a few days and see how your body responds.
It takes a little bit of an adjustment to drop protein powders. But, just try it. There is real protein all around you. See the collection of my breakfast recipes to get inspired with bringing real food to your life and rebalance your hormones.
Interested in learning more about how to find hormonal balance with proper nutrition? Join our exclusive 8-day full program viewing below:[adrotate banner=”14″]
I like the idea of using real foods too. I agree that protein powders can be a gimmick and a way to make money for the ‘expert’.
However, I did notice that the Consumer Report didn’t seem to test any vegan protein powders – just dairy based ones. I wouldn’t dream of using a dairy based protein powder – even whey powder, no matter how ‘good’ it’s supposed to be for me 😉 It would be interesting to see how the vegan based protein powders fared. Thing is, I’ve read there’s metals in many of the fruits and veg we eat 🙁
Would you say the same for collagen powders?
Yes, I’m wondering about collagen protein, such as Vital Proteins.
Bravo Magdalena for giving us the real facts behind the “story”. I do admire you for helping people who have the chance to read your articles in the hopes of understanding food facts. I’ve become your fan and can’t thank you enough for showing me the path to true health.
Oh please weigh in on the collagen powder, I drink this in my coffee daily!
Thanks for the info
Oh my gawd, I just finished my morning protein shake!! I have it everyday after my workout. After reading this, I want to go throw up!!!! I’m quitting it starting NOW. I HAVE noticed that my digestion is horrible, and didnt know why… I quit the shakes this weekend and felt better. started back up monday and things are slowing down again. Now I need to figure out what real food to eat. Thanks for including a link to the breakfast foods, that will help. Okay.. off to do some deep breathing to calm myself down.
Please weigh in on collagen. I’m using a liquid collagen in my morning green drink!
Yes! Please help us understand collagen and beef broth protein powders. Do these have the same issues?
I agree with your view on protein powders. This is why I’ve recently started putting a serving of organic hemp protein powder into my mostly veggie smoothie, thinking – this is just ground hemp seeds, right? It states that it’s “purely mechanical cold-milling process resulting in a fine powder that blends well… it is a whole food”
Magdalena, would you say that anything ground up is processed or it is the “-isolate” process that is the bigger problem?
Just ground up hemp is fine that is not processed. There are other seed protein sources that are processed and then ground that are hard to digest, like pea.
I also would love to know about gelatin. Could you please comment.
Could you share how you feel about collagen protein powder?
Collagen protein powder is processed totally different than other protein powders. It is actually just dehydrated. Magdalena recommends these brands Bulletproof, Vital Proteins and Great Lakes.
I have researched these products and there is ) reaserarch to prove that they work in the body at all. Can’t you recommend a product that has research to back the claims?
This was indeed written by a marketer and not a nutritionist.
“Protein powders contain no fat which means these vitamins never get absorbed.” <<< Vitamins are on fat to be absorbed and you do not need to get your fat from protein powders.
"That makes total sense except that the protein has been so denatured that adding fat at this point won’t guarantee the absorption." <<< A lot of the foods you eat like scrambled eggs contain denatured protein. Cells absorb amino acids, not protein.
Exactly my thoughts. Amino acids in free form are usually absorbed better anyways 🤷🏻♀️. Everything about this article is so wrong.
I’ve used pea protein powders off and on recently. I am a 43 year old female and haven’t had a period since I was 32. I’ve noticed that the pea protein caused spotting and hormonal changes, along with bloating and breast tenderness. Now I’m having a period. (Not enthused, though I suppose I should be). Why might this be happening?
When I was trying to conceive I found akot of research about peas. xylohydroquinone, which is a natural chemical found in peas used to be used as a contraceptive, it effects your progesterone. You can try googling more info.
Raise in estrogen levels. Anything soy and if eaten excessively can cause hormonal imbalance. Spotting may be due to polyps in the ovaries or uterus again caused by estrogen levels being high. Please see a doctor for further information.
Hi Maria, another Maria here, post-menopausal, vegetarian lifting pretty decent weights and need more protein. Started pea protein daily three weeks ago and a week into it my body started changing to be almost pre-menstrual. For the first time in four years since stopping menstruation I have tremendous breast tenderness and they’re def bigger. And there are other things, including a tiny bit of spotting. A few days ago I got my yearly pelvic ultrasound (high risk family situation) and my uterus is more than double the thickness they like it to be (it’s 8 mm, last year it was 3mm), and there’s an ovarian cyst and something emanating from that. So now I have a lot of followups, and I’m trying not to be too concerned.
Last night while lying awake from breast pain (worse than it used to be) I started going thru what has changed in my diet in the last few weeks and the only thing is pea/rice protein powder. It’s the BOMB — soo good, and my muscles were already showing the benefit. But it might have triggered something inside. I’m sure no doctor will take this seriously but I am going to stay away from this and see what happens. Would love to learn others’ experiences.
People think that by calling something denatured that it means it’s not good for you. Any kind of protein that enters the body becomes denatured by stomach acid. The body does not absorb complex proteins, it absorbs amino acids. So stomach acid reduces all proteins to amino acids. Cooking with heat or acid both render meat and all proteins as denatured. Denatured doesn’t mean unnatural, it means “Biochemistry. to treat (a protein or the like) by chemical or physical means so as to alter its original state.“
So it’s kinda deceiving to say denatured and call it “not real food.”
Also, to address the comment on collagen protein, the body, once again, does not absorb proteins. They are broken down. Collagen would be broken down to amino acids, and then the body would rebuild proteins from those amino acids. But it would build what it needs, not what you want and think it needs.
1. Natural proteins always come with fats…? Where did you get that from? Beans, lentils, white fish, bison, Turkey, most grains, oats, spinach.
2. Processed things: you can say the same about cocoa powder vs cocoa beans. Cocoa powder is the “concentrated, adulterated” version of the cocoa bean but is more nutritious because it’s higher in antioxidants and polyphenols and lower in saturated fats.
3. Level of processing does not necessarily determine degree of digestion. Take raw cruciferous veggies, beans, allium vegetables, all unprocessed yet still difficult for many to digest.
5. Damage to kidneys from protein only occurs in those with pre-existing kidney problems or are predisposed to kidney issues. Protein powders do not lead to heart disease, artery clogging- too much saturated fats do. I would argue that protein powders are better than eating “natural” sources of protein if that means high fat/processed meats if a person does in fact require higher protein intake due to high physical activity. Also, protein powder alone CANNOT cause excess fat gain, EXCESS CALORIES do. It’s calories in vs calories out. Yes protein powders MAY make it easier to over-consume calories because it’s a liquid and the body has a harder time gauging and regulating caloric content of foods in liquids. However, because the body has to process protein in order to use it for energy or store it as fat, it actually leads to less calories than fats or carbs would (thermic effect of food).
I’m not saying this to conclude that I’m pro-protein powders but many of your reasonings are flawed. Yes, they may cause digestive issues- not because they are processed but because many people are unable to digest lactose period. And yes they may contain heavy metals so that is certainly a reason to be cautious. Otherwise, the other reasons are either untrue or have been debunked.
Thank you. You said everything that I was thinking.
Hi! Protein powder is just protein, plain and simple. If you eat enough food, you don’t need it.
It is not. It mixes your natural ways to absorb protein. There are many interesting studies already done. Go find out
Most protein powder causes Erectile dysfunction in men too, I recommend arginine intake it helps with blood circulation and Alamo helps build muscles