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Are Protein Shakes really a Good Solution to Meal Replacement

Posted by Kelli de Sante' on 23rd Jan 2022

Are protein shakes really a good solution to meal replacement?

They range in ingredients and types of protein….but are they really that good for you?

Protein shakes and powders are everywhere. They are touted of late as a “health food” and for a fast meal replacement for adding protein to your diet. Originally designed for athletes, they have become a common item on grocery store shelves, at and at Costco, or any of the big box stores. There is a plethora of protein shakes on the market…ranging in quality, ingredients, and amounts of protein.*

Let’s look at the pros and cons of protein shakes and at one ingredient specifically, that is known to cause digestive issues and other health problems which you should be aware of.

Do we really need protein drinks?

Adults need 0.4 grams of protein per day for every pound of body weight. Older adults need 0.6 grams. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 60 grams for an average adult and 90 grams for that older adult of the same weight. Protein is what helps our body heal, keeps us strong, and helps avoid falls. According to Ph.D. Nancy Rodriguez, Professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut, “Protein is especially important in older men and women to avoid muscle loss and to maintain existing muscle mass, which we lose as we age.1*

So what does that look like? To give you an idea, a chicken breast has 43 grams of protein (approximately one cup chopped). There are 6 grams of protein in a single egg and 15 grams in a cup of black beans. An 8 oz glass of soy milk has 7 grams of protein and there is 23 grams of protein in a 4 oz piece of salmon. 2*

Back in school, we learned about complete and incomplete proteins. Just as a reminder, protein is comprised of 20 amino acids, 11 of which are produced by the human body. A food that contains all nine of these amino acids is called a “complete protein.” So while getting protein is important in your diet, it is equally important to make sure you are getting the right proteins. Animal proteins such as fish, eggs, meat, poultry, and dairy are complete proteins. You can also find complete proteins that are plant-based in such foods as Soybeans, quinoa, hemp seed, buckwheat, and blue-green algae.3*

“…If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or if you limit the number of animal products you consume, you can combine incomplete, plant-based proteins to meet your body’s needs. Combinations include:

-Nuts or seeds with whole grains (peanut butter on whole-wheat toast)

-Whole grains with beans (beans and rice; hummus and pita bread; bean-based chili and crackers; refried beans and tortillas)

-Beans with nuts or seeds (salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds)…”3*

It has become popular for people on the go or anyone wanting a quick meal replacement to reach for a “protein shake” as a meal replacement. While most people can get plenty of protein through their regular diet, protein drinks come in handy for those not getting enough nourishment through their daily diet, due to illness or post-surgery for example. 1*

There are different kinds of protein found in the supplements and drinks on the market. They range from animal proteins such as whey (from dairy) and egg white to plant-based proteins such as pea, rice, hemp, quinoa, and chia proteins. And as we know, anything that sounds too good to be true usually is so we must address the downsides to protein drinks and powders. Let’s check it out.

Toxins in a protein shake?

“…Earlier this year, a nonprofit group called the Clean Label Project released a report about toxins in protein powders. Researchers screened 134 products for 130 types of toxins and found that many protein powders contained heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), bisphenol-A (BPA, which is used to make plastic), pesticides, or other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. Some toxins were present in significant quantities. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA…” (4,5)*

The Clean Label Project points to the manufacturing process or the existence of toxins in soil that are absorbed by plants that are used in protein powders for the reason they contain so many contaminants. Plants like hemp, if not grown in organic soil, really pull the toxins out of the soil. (4,5)*

If you go to their website, Clean Label Project, you can see which protein powders had elevated levels of toxins and which didn’t in their test. (4, 5)*

Too much of a good thing

Depending on the protein drink, you may be getting more protein than your body can process. For anyone with kidney damage, too much protein can lead to a buildup of waste in the blood. Keep in mind, close to 40 percent of those aged 65 and over have chronic kidney disease with about 90 percent don’t know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With protein powders and drinks having a high concentration of nutrients, this can cause health issues. 1*

Hidden Sweeteners

Most protein drinks and powders have a lot more added sugars than you would think. This leads to gaining weight and making it harder to manage blood sugar levels if you are diabetic. Some contain more sugar than a scoop of ice cream. Others are sweetened with artificial sweeteners which present their own set of issues for the metabolic system. Look for such ingredients as sucralose, stevia, or other sugar alcohols such as erythritol.1*

Let’s weigh in on whey

Many of the supplements on the market contain whey, which is one of the most popular proteins used in these products. But whey does not agree with a lot of people, and while you may think you are doing the right thing drinking a protein shake, you may be wreaking havoc on your gut and your entire system. I originally set out on this topic due to a couple people I know having harsh side effects after indulging in whey protein powders. (1,6)*

Next time, we are going to examine whey protein a little closer, one of the main ingredients in protein shakes.

Healthiest wishes,