This is a guest post from Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) and New York Times Best Selling author. You can read more about her take on the food industry in her second book, Feeding You Lies!
Protein shakes, powders, and supplements are incredibly popular with the health conscious crowd. Considering what typical protein shakes promise – sleek muscles, weight loss and a quick, easy “healthy” meal replacement – it’s logical to see why.
Unfortunately, the food industry is making an absolute killing (maybe literally) selling ones that are filled with highly processed denatured proteins, chemicals, preservatives and other additives. There’s one thing in common for all of them – they are all processed and deciding on whether or not they are actually “real food” comes into question.
Now not all processed things we put in our body are technically bad for us – but understanding what exactly is in your protein shake is critical to deciding whether to consume it, select an alternative, or discontinue use all together.
Below is a summary chart of the ingredients in popular protein shakes and powders:
“?” indicates protein supplement has not been tested or proven to have that specific ingredient
We’ve discussed GMO’s here, Artificial Colors here, Carrageenan here, Antibiotics here, and rBGH here before so I won’t go into them again in detail specifically. Regardless, you should know consuming a protein drink with any of those ingredients is a risk to your health and if you don’t know why – please read up on those past posts to learn more.
NOT CERTIFIED ORGANIC
I should also mention that none of the protein brands listed here (Body by Vi, Slim Fast, Designer Whey, EAS Myoplex, Shakeology, Special K, Ensure, Isogen, Pure Protein, Herbalife, Atkins, Gatorade Recovery, Vega, and Muscle Milk) are certified organic nor are they Non-GMO project certified. That means all of them might contain GMOs and most definitely contain pesticides that are considered harmful and potentially toxic with long-term exposure. This increased exposure is linked to birth defects, nerve damage, and even cancer.
The President’s Cancer Panel has urged us not to consume food sprayed with pesticides and doesn’t believe any amount is safe. Because of this reason, I can’t imagine willingly wanting to spend a serious chunk of change (protein shakes are expensive!) to buy any of these listed products as a way to help build muscle, lose weight or replace a meal.
IS YOUR PROTEIN DRINK SAFE? Hmmm…NOT WITH THESE INGREDIENTS:
Consumer Reports conducted an eye-opening investigation that revealed several protein powders contain heavy metals – specifically arsenic, cadmium, and lead. EAS Myoplex tested for two heavy metals in higher amounts than the USP limit of exposure per day. Muscle Milk had the highest of all levels of all brands tested.
Cadmium raises special concern because it accumulates in and can damage the kidneys, the same organs that can be damaged by excessive protein consumption. And it can take 20 years for the body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today.” This is a highly toxic metal, and while there are some cases where decisions have to be weighed against relative risks, accepting that you have to be exposed to any cadmium at all in your protein drink after your workout is definitely not one of them,” says Michael Harbut, M.D., director of the Environmental Cancer Initiative at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Royal Oak, Mich.
“When these toxic heavy metals are combined in a product that is marketed for daily use, that raises serious public health concerns, especially for pregnant women, children, and young adults,” says Burns, who has been a toxicology consultant to state and federal government agencies.
Many protein drinks use soy protein concentrate or soy protein isolate in conjunction with other proteins. Over 90% of the soy produced in this country is GMO – but that’s not the only reason to avoid soy protein.
When soy is looked at from a macronutrient perspective, it can give the illusion of a very healthy food – full of plant based protein, essential amino acids and fiber. However, the soy that is grown and produced today is largely hybridized, making the amino acids largely indigestible leading to digestive issues that have caused many people to be allergic to soy.
What’s worse is when soy is isolated to just its protein state, it becomes severely denatured and can cause hormonal disruptions because of the excessive amount of estrogen contained in it. Soy also has an abundance of phytic acid that leeches calcium and other vital minerals from your body.
Calling out an ingredient filler like maltodextrin may make you think I’m being nitpicky – but is this carb substitute that is likely derived from genetically modified corn really necessary in protein powders?
Maltodextrin can be used to make a substance like “fibersol” that, for instance, is in the Body by Vi Shakes. This fibersol is made by heating maltodextrin at very high temperatures and treating it with enzymes and acids to make a fiber your body simply can’t digest and makes you feel artificially full. If you are eating enough plant-based foods, there is no reason to supplement with this type of chemically derived fiber.
Fibersol is just another additive that does absolutely nothing for your long term health. Why not add a real food like spinach or a banana to your smoothie instead?
Acesulfame Potassium or Acesulfame K
This is the most common form of artificial sweetener available in protein drinks (and tons of other processed foods) today and according the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) it is anything but safe. CSPI reported the safety tests of acesulfame-K that were conducted in the 1970s were inadequate.
Specifically, two rat studies suggest that the additive might cause cancer, but these studies were never addressed by the FDA before they approved the substance to also be used unregulated in soft drinks. In addition, it is mentioned that large doses of acetoacetamide (a breakdown product of this sugar) have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. This toxic sugar substitute can be found in EAS Myoplex, Isogen, Pure Protein, Atkins, and Muscle Milk.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is highly processed, unlike whole protein food concentrate. Most whey protein isolates start from ultra-pasteurized conventional milk that has antibiotics and growth hormones and are then exposed to acid processing, stripping alkalinizing minerals, naturally occurring vitamins and lipids. This processing makes whey protein isolate over acidifying in the body.
Chronically consuming whey protein isolate without appropriate balance of alkalizing foods, can acidify your body and over time increase your vulnerability to degenerative disease. This overly processed form of whey can be found in a lot of popular protein drinks that are not included in this list but marketed under generic or store brand names including the one by Gatorade called “Recover.”
Luckily, you don’t have to rely on protein drinks because simply eating a variety of real food alone gives you plenty of protein.
But, if you are still concerned about protein you could make a nut butter based smoothie like Lisa’s PB & J Smoothie or choose from any of these real food sources of protein below:
Meat sources of protein – beef, pork, poultry, eggs, yogurt, cheese, fish (very important to choose organic when possible if you go this route)
Vegetarian sources of protein – legumes (dry beans, lentils, and peas), nuts and seeds (almond butter, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds), whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, pasta), dark leafy vegetables, and some fruits like avocado
SO ARE THERE ANY HEALTHY PROTEIN POWDERS?
Fortunately, there are a few Food Babe approved protein powders (including Warrior Food Extreme, Tera’s Organic Whey, Nutiva’s Hemp Protein, and Garden of Life Raw) that do not contain any of the ingredients mentioned here, and would fall under the definition of “real food” in my book.
If you decide to supplement your protein, it is very important to double and triple check the ingredient list and check with the manufacturer to see how they process their protein – visit this post on FoodBabe.com to find out the protein powders that I personally buy and occasionally use in my smoothies.
Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.
366 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates: Is Your Protein Shake Safe?”
I see Isogen on the list. Is that the Isagenix Isalean shake? Please advise.
Hi Gina. You might want to hop over to Food Babe’s site and ask this question there. Supplements really aren’t our area of expertise. :) ~Amy
I am currently using Young Livings Pure Protein Complete shake and would love your take on this and how it measures up. Thank you, love being apart of your army!!
Hi there, Blake. You should pose this question to Food Babe on her site as our guest posts are often only answered by their author for a limited time. :) ~Amy
I am curious about Shaklee products. I see they are free of GMO’s. Specifically the soy protein product. I am new to clean eating and really dissecting ingredients. Would love to know if the Tera’s Organic Whey is safe to use while breast feeding.
I’ve been using Shaklee 180 shakes for the past year – absolutely love them and what they stand for. Their mission for safe, non-toxic products is 2nd to none, plus they have the tests and research to back it their claims. I’m aware that they’ll pull products from the line if tainted at any point in the process -from the field to the bottle :)
So, I guess she isn’t familiar with Juice Plus’s Complete shakes? The ONLY category with a checkmark would be soy, but it is non-GMO, organic, water washed edamame dehydrated at low temp. The other ingredients are also whole food: pea, chickpea, apple, bean sprouts, quinoa, radish sprout… well, you can read the label on the site, but you get the idea. They are the only shakes I would even consider consuming, and I love them. This isn’t a plug for my business, btw. I don’t really care WHO you get them from, I just want to clear the air and give facts for those who might be looking for a healthy, real food option.
My shakeology says non GMO. Putting a question mark next to something is deceiving, you seem to purposely be trying to make these products look bad. Where did you do your research on any of these products? You give no citations at all.
What sources did you use? I don’t see anything cited and these are pretty bold claims. I ask because I have done my research, very thoroughly, and can tell you that some of your points are flat out wrong.
This is more info from Food Babe and you might pose a question to her there: http://foodbabe.com/2012/12/13/the-healthiest-protein-powders-on-the-market/.
Thanks for the article. I chose the Nutiva Hemp Protein based on your recommendations. I will purchase some this evening at a local health store.
Could you add Juice Plus complete to your review of Shakes?
The Vega Protein package I have says Non-GMO
I am looking at the following brands and wondering what you think — Tone It Up’s Perfect Fit Protein (says Non-GMO, no soy, etc) but I’m getting confused on what to look for.
Also curious about the It Works! Products and your thoughts.
Hi Hannah. This is more info from Food Babe and you might pose a question to her there: http://foodbabe.com/2012/12/13/the-healthiest-protein-powders-on-the-market/. ~Amy
Hi Lisa. I’ve been reading your info regarding protein. I’m from South Africa and the protein products you mention is only available if imported – at great cost. There are a few natural and organic protein powders available in SA but I’m not sure how they whey up against the products you have investigated so far. Web sites like http://www.healthmatrix.co.za or http://www.faithful-to-nature.co.za do stock such products here in SA. Have you or are you going to investigate any off these protein products? it would be great to get the low down on these as well.
Another protein product that ‘they’ say is good is full of protein is Spirulina. What is your take on this and would you take this as a supplement?
Hi Trevor. This might help: http://foodbabe.com/2012/12/13/the-healthiest-protein-powders-on-the-market/. ~Amy
I love the Arbonne’s Protein Shake Mix Meal Replacements. They are made with pea protein that makes them easily digestible. The fact that I can add greens such as baby spinach, fruits or seeds to the mix allows for a great variety. Add to this the full feeling (not bulkiness) you get that last (at least for me) up to 6 hours is amazing. Love the products Arbonne offers.
Great article! I literally just threw out the remainder of my Body Fortress Chocolate Peanut Butter super advanced Whey. I was always taught that whey isolate was a good thing! But Im seeing GMO!! maltodextrin, acesulfame, and The highly estrogenic Soy Lecithin I just assumed it was all good I should of known better! I think i’ll take a shot and try isagenix seems to be pretty popular with some of your readers. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!
I use Usana’s Nutrimeal (3 different flavours). Nutrimeal is a nutritious, low-glycemic, gluten- free meal replacement drink and a quality source of carbohydrates, beneficial fats and many micronutrients. Check this company out – worthwhile.usana.com for all their products.
I agree with Franny. I have been drinking an isagenix Shake an average of 1 per day for the last 9 years or so. Sometimes 2 or 3 in one day. They are amazing. Their whey has been processed to RETAIN all the good stuff. Best source of protein I have found in 30 years. I am 60 and look 40 and act 20. I plan on enjoying them for at least 50 more years! Check them out http://www.CleanseThin.com
Please check out Isagenix shakes. They are undenatured whey protein
organic gluten free barley and wheat free. Soy free & 24 grams
http://myvega.com/about/sustainability/ingredients/Vega is non-GMO, & is currently working with the non-GMO Project on certification.
picked up leanfit naturals complete green protein at Costco, and am very happy with it. the ingredients look good to me.
I use the Arbonne meal replacement shake and it’s amazing! It’s vegan and gluten free certified, and it’s botanically based!! I’ve been drinking one every morning for just over a week now and I’ve been feeling great ever since!
It’s why I drink hemp shakes.
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This is an incredibly biased text with many details manipulated to imply definite fact when it’s pure mythology. E.g. Saying that because there is a possibility of them all containing GMOs, they all probably do. Pure guess work. And they most definitely contain pesticides because that’s what you reckon?
Also, explain the various meanings of the different ways everything is “processed”. You just make the reader see the word processed and they will assume it’s chucking a load of sulphuric acid in it.
I’d be interested in Food Babe’s opinion of doTERRA’s Slim & Sassy shakes. I use them frequently and think they’re delicious and healthy, but would love to know if I’m not reading the ingredients closely enough.
I have to admit that even though I eat a lot of fish, chicken, eggs, nuts etc., I drink a lot of protein drinks. I do like the semi indulgent feeling of drinking protein shakes. I am a fitness instructor and very active and feel that this is a better option then most snacks. Let’s face it, vegetables or eggs aren’t always the most satisfying. I was happy to see that you recommended the tera’s whey and just recently found it. I was quite impressed with the ingredients. I am an Advocare distributor and love the taste and consistency of the Muscle Gain. Do you have an opinion on the Advocare’s version of their protein powder? I enjoy and use many of their products. I love reading your articles and value your opinion. Thanks E.
Im curious to get your opinion on VISI Nutritional Products. They have just launched a hydrolyzed collagen protein chew called Probita and also a hydrolyzed collagen protein smoothie which also contains 12 super fruits & vegetables plus all your vitamins & minerals called NUFINNA. All VISI’s products contain their Scandinavian Berry Blend of the Arctic Cloudberry & Lingonberry. Hydrolyzed collagen protein is 95% absorbable compared to a whey protein that is only 53%. Probita & Nufinna are great as a protein source but also for muscle toning, stretch marks, wrinkles, hair & nail growth, aches & pains and so much more! Message me at email@example.com for more information. Ive gone from a size large shirt to an extra small and have gone down 5 jean sizes!! I sleep better and have way more energy throughout the day :)
If you are a consultant/distributor of a product that was created for the purposes of network marketing and that product was not in the retail market for ten or more years with great public feedback then… Your product was simply made because someone wanted to create a networks riveting company and created a product to sell, but I guarantee you that most of the money went into the marketing and branding and NOT into creating the best product on the market.
So don’t be surprised if your company is on this list and instead of griping about it on this feed, go do your due diligence to see if what your selling IS ACTUALLY good for you?
The estrogen found in soy is really bad for men, it will cause them to grow breasts and it will throw off a woman’s hormone balance. GMO is bad for everyone because all of the natural nutrients are stripped out and artificially replaced. The list goes on but you can’t say that arsenic has any value for anyone unless you’re trying to kill them.
THANK YOU!! Everyone that asked about a specific shake, the answer they got back came from a distributor who is trying to SELL them something. Tests were done on all of these brands yet each distributor wants to offer a rebuttal, asking where the information came from. Did these people also do a test or are they just going by information they “think” they know.
Point being- I’d rather take my advice from someone like Food Babe who is NOT trying to sell me something.
Comments are closed.