We had a new client call a few weeks ago. They had been given our standard shake recipes handout and a family member had pointed out how Consumer Reports did an article about how dangerous protein powder was and that they really shouldn’t be taking it. I calmed down our client and explained how and why we use protein powder and then jumped to the Consumer Reports article to see what they had to say. And you know what? They were right, protein powder can be dangerous!
Consumer Reports tested 15 protein powder supplements and found heavy metal contamination to various degrees. Heavy metals are dangerous because they swap out with minerals we need and slowly weaken and poison the body. This poisoning can go on for years from various sources and can lead to all kinds of symptoms that get misdiagnosed. As well, treating this requires expensive chelation therapy.
The answer isn’t to stop buying these products. Choose protein powders and supplements from companies that test their products. At Cornerstone Naturopathic we purchase protein powder from local compounding companies that certify their product as pure. It is more expensive because the tests to ensure purity are expensive. Box store or mega-supplement stores can sell a cheaper product from companies that don’t spend the money for testing. We also purchase Vega products which are tested for purity as well. When buying a protein powder, check out the company, ask questions and find out how they keep their product safe.
Another issue the article raises is the effect of too much protein on the body. If you aren’t actively using the amino acids in protein for growth and repair or creating hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters, the body disassembles the access and stores it as fat. This actually will cause weight gain, but it also stresses the kidneys that need to excrete the byproducts of this process. Over time this can damage the kidneys, especially if you already have a kidney issue.
At Cornerstone Naturopathic we NEVER suggest having your protein supplement by itself. It is a component in a fully balanced shake that you will add greens and fruit for carbohydrate content and oils for fats. Having protein with each meal or snack slows down digestion so you feel full longer and avoids the sleepy feeling that can happen after carbohydrate only meals. Proper balance is important and a protein supplement gives you a high quality, easily absorbed protein source.
I’m going to admit I’m a carb addict. Normal breakfasts when I was growing up were toast and tea, bagels with butter, pancakes and syrup. Without a good lean protein source added I would often be sleepy within an hour and really hungry in two hours. Adding protein is the answer but I couldn’t stomach the idea at all.
This is where protein powder comes in. Whiz a serving of protein powder with half a cup of frozen berries, another half cup of some kind of leafy green, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a teaspoon of ground flax and two tablespoons of olive oil and you’ve just taken in a good deal of protein, healthy antioxidant rich carbs that contain fibre and a rich monounsaturated fat. All that nutrition contained in a portable and palatable form that tastes like a carbohydrate rich breakfast. It can be seasoned with vanilla, cinnamon or a healthy sweetener to taste. It is an easy way to start getting protein in the morning without cooking. Protein in the morning really acts like a metabolism booster; it gets the digestive fires burning and fuels you for morning tasks. You wouldn’t drive your car to work if the tank was empty, why let yourself run on an empty tank?
Also, the additional ingredients in your shake slow down the movement of the shake through your body so you can absorb the protein from it. Protein powder by itself would flow through the system so quickly you’d only absorb half of it. And this adds to the stress on the kidneys. Adding nutrient dense ingredients improves absorption and gives you everything you need to function at your best.
The last point the Consumer Reports article made is that protein powders are a very expensive form of protein. Eggs, chicken and fish are much cheaper forms of protein and offer a greater nutrient profile. This is absolutely true. I’m a firm believer in eating REAL food. Cooked well and with love it nourishes body and soul. So if you have a choice of a shake or eggs over-easy with asparagus and drizzled in a fine olive oil – please choose the real food. However, if you spring out of bed in the morning and rush out the door with hardly a look behind you, the shake will give you a breakfast you can take with you and with a nutrient profile to optimize your energy levels for the beginning of the day.
A lot of people aren’t used to eating in the morning and a shake provides that introduction. Allergies can mean you can’t eat eggs or tolerate dairy. Why not eat leftover dinner foods? Or have an Asian inspired breakfast of miso soup with greens, noodles and salmon? Think outside the box with your breakfast. Eating protein shakes and bars can fill in the gaps in our diet, but real food fills more then just a nutrition role. It fills a sensory, social and emotional role as well. Wherever possible eat real food, cooked with love and with the people you love to get the full benefit of the meal.
If you would like more information about how much protein is right for your age, body type and lifestyle, feel free to book an appointment with Dr. Ben Connolly for a full health assessment and Body Composition Assessment.
Heavy Metals results from Consumer Reports July 2010
Natural News Article about Vega Protein and other companies testing protein powders
Consumer Reports abstract from July 2010 article about protein excess
Helen Kollias article on protein absorption
Consumer Reports abstract from July 2010 article about cheaper forms of protein