How to Choose Protein Powder – Ask a Nutritionist

January 12, 2023

Welcome to our new mid-week segment, Ask a Nutritionist! In this new segment, nutritionists will answer questions we’ve received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners. On today’s show, Britni shares a thorough discussion on protein powder. Whey, beef, pea, what’s the difference? Different people tolerate some protein powders better than others. Listen in and find out which protein powder is best for you.

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BRITNI: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's new midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. My name is Britni Vincent, and I am a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. And on today's show, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, we will be answering a nutrition question we've received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

And today's question is, “Can you share a thorough discussion on protein powders?” I think protein powders can be really confusing because there are so many different options on the market, but they can be a great way to get some extra protein in the day if you struggle to get adequate protein. Or if you just need some quick go-to protein options, the protein powders can be a great way to get that.

And you know, it's something I personally utilize on a regular basis and a lot of my clients do as well. So let's start by talking about the different protein powders we generally recommend: whey protein, beef protein, and plant-based protein powders are usually the three different options and are the most common ones.

Whey protein powder

And many of our clients use a whey protein powder. So whey is dairy. You know, a lot of people don't realize that whey does come from dairy. I think of that old nursery rhyme curds and whey, where they talk about that. So if you are dairy sensitive or if you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, you would want to avoid whey protein.

But if you don't have an issue with dairy that you're aware of, I think that the whey protein is a great option to try at first. Whey protein powder mixes really well, I think it tastes good, and a lot of times it is a more affordable option. You know, at Nutrikey, we offer an unflavored one, a chocolate and a vanilla, and the chocolate and vanilla are sweetened with stevia. In case you would like to avoid those, then I would go for the unflavored option.

Paleo Protein Powder: a dairy free option

You know, for those who are dairy sensitive, I would recommend a beef protein powder. I get a lot of weird looks when I recommend beef protein because you know, it sounds kind of strange at first, but I promise it does not taste like beef at all. On our Nutrikey website or in our locations, our beef protein is called Paleo Protein powder. The beef protein comes in chocolate, vanilla, and unflavored, and those chocolate and the vanilla are sweetened with stevia as well. I personally have been using the chocolate paleo protein a lot lately and it's really delicious, especially if you are a chocolate lover like myself. So that is a great option.

Pea protein: another option

And for those who are vegan, are vegetarian, or maybe you're sensitive to dairy, that pea protein can be a nice option for those individuals. So one thing to consider about the plant-based protein powders are they're not as bioavailable as a protein that's coming from an animal like the whey coming from dairy or the beef protein. So what that means is your body's not able to utilize all of the protein that you're going to get from a plant-based protein powder. For that purpose, and because the protein in those plant-based powders is not as high as the animal products, oftentimes you're going to need to use more of that protein powder to get adequate protein.

So that can affect the, the texture a little bit and the flavor a little bit, and some people don't mind at all, but something to be aware of. We also, again, have an unflavored pea protein and a vanilla flavored pea protein option.

Ingredients to avoid in protein powder

I also want to talk about, if you are looking at other protein powders, what ingredients should you avoid? So always, always when you're looking at protein powders or any food at all, look at that ingredient list because the ingredient list is going to tell you a lot, whether it is a high quality product or not. So avoiding any protein powders that just have a long list of ingredients, especially if you're not even sure what some of those ingredients are.

You also want to avoid protein powders with added sugar or refined oils. Some refined oils could be soybean oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil. You might find those in some protein powders, and that would definitely indicate a lower quality product. And then artificial sweeteners: you find those in a lot of protein powders. So artificial sweeteners, that would be like sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium. Those are the most common ones. So I would avoid any product that has those artificial sweeteners in there. And again, read thoroughly that ingredient list because sometimes those might be found at the end of the ingredient list. So it can be easy to miss that.

And then the other ingredient to be aware of are sugar alcohols. And sugar alcohols, that would be like sorbitol or xylitol. Often those sugar alcohols end in “itol”, and those are added to provide the sweetness, but for some individuals those cause a lot of digestive symptoms like cramping, gas, diarrhea, bloating.

So if those do cause those, those symptoms for you, I definitely would recommend avoiding. Otherwise, if you seem to tolerate them, okay, then it would be all right to consume a protein powder with any of those sugar alcohols in there. I had mentioned Stevia earlier. Stevia would be an all right ingredient. Or now we're seeing more products sweetened with monk fruit, and that could be, again, another all right sweetener to be getting in your protein powder.

How do we use protein powder?

So let's talk, how do we use the protein powder? You decide you want to try it out. What could you, what could you make with them? I think a lot of people think of smoothies, first of all, and there are so many different options that you can make in this smoothie world. So what we want to think about is getting that protein. So that would be the protein powder. And if you're going to be consuming a smoothie for breakfast, I would recommend getting anywhere from 21 to 28 grams of protein from your smoothie. So that means just turning over the back of that protein powder and looking at how much, how many grams of protein is going to be in one scoop. And then you can figure out how many scoops you need to get that 21 to 28 grams.

If you are a male, generally males need a little bit more protein. So I would say any. From 28 to 42 grams of protein in that morning smoothie. So we've got your protein in the smoothie. Then you want to add some real carbohydrates, and you know, for most people they like to add some fruit in there. I think frozen fruit works great. It's generally cheaper, and then it creates a nice texture when you blend it all up.

And then I'd encourage you to sneak some veggies in there. Why not? You're probably not even going to notice it in there, maybe other than the color and how it looks. So throw some spinach in there. I think that's probably the easiest thing to do. Kale works. I have found that if you freeze the kale for whatever reason, it blends up a little bit better. I often use frozen riced cauliflower in my smoothies. It's an easy thing to pull out of the freezer. I know it sounds a little weird, but the protein powder flavor and the fruit flavor and the fat flavor really is going to cover up that cauliflower taste. So again, I don't even think you're going to notice it's in there. So that is a really easy way to get some extra, extra veggies in your day.

Some people like to add the Key Greens and Fruits powder in their smoothies, so that is a, a blend of different fruits and vegetables freeze dried in powder form, and they're sweetened with either stevia or monk fruit. They come in a variety of different flavors and it's, it's just an extra way to get more nutrients, more antioxidants. They should not replace vegetables themselves. It's again, just a way to think of getting a little extra, a boost in the day.

So we've got the protein, the carbohydrates in your smoothie. I would add some healthy fat. That could be a nut butter, a couple tablespoons of a nut butter. My go is canned coconut milk. Like a third of a cup in there. And I specifically say canned because when you purchase the carton coconut milk, a lot of times it's so watered down that you're not even getting any of that healthy fat in there. So that canned coconut milk, or avocado, a lot of people like to throw a half avocado in there. You could add, or some ground flax seed, some chia seeds. Those could be some, some other fat options. And the chia and the flax do provide a little extra fiber too. You blend all of that up and create a delicious smoothie.

We have a really, we have an article on our website at How to Make the Perfect Smoothie. And it has a really great diagram of all of the different options that I was talking about and then how to layer it. So if you want to venture into smoothies, I would recommend checking that article out.

And then we also have a variety of different recipes on our website for smoothies. So here in Minnesota it's wintertime and it’s really cold out. And I know in those colder months, a lot of times those cold smoothies just do not sound very appealing. So we have some warm smoothie options. My favorite is the apple pie smoothie. On our website, we also have a hot chocolate smoothie option. And again, those are found on

So that that's, again, a great way in those colder months to get some extra protein to start the day with. And then another point I want to make with the smoothies, if you're going to dirty the blender, get all of your ingredients out, why not make a big batch? That's what I always do. And then you can save them in either glass jars or baggies. I prefer the glass jar method. I just save glass jars from pickles or mayonnaise or whatever I have. You could buy just some canning jars. That works well. If you're going to be freezing these smoothies, definitely leave some extra room at the top to allow for expansion. You don't want a big mess in your freezer for.

So making those batches of smoothies, it can be a huge lifesaver. You know, pull out a frozen smoothie the night before. It could be ready to to eat in the morning. Or if you want to do a snack smoothie, then you could pull out a smoothie, and then by afternoon time it'll be all thawed out for you.

Other ways to utilize protein powder

Some other ways to utilize the protein powder: you could do a quick on the go shake. So this is often my snack on my workdays is I just have a shaker container with a little shaker ball. I add my protein powder. Often I add some MCT oil for my fat in there, and then either water or some, some almond milk and you shake it up and that is a super quick, easy, but still tastes good snack.

You could also make, we have oatmeal almond balls. Those are like a version of an energy ball. We have that recipe and some other energy ball type recipes on our website. A lot of people make those. Again, those freeze really well. They've got the protein powders, some, some nut butter in there, oats. And then you can vary the other ingredients just based on different things that you like.

I also love the banana muffin recipe that we have on our website. I make those a lot. My kids love them again. They freeze really great. You can sub out the banana for any fruit that you would like. My other favorite is chopping up some apples and putting those in the muffins. So that is another great option to utilize the protein powder.

And you could have one or two of those for a snack: a great quick on the go option. You know, some people add protein powder to their yogurt, or if you're making chia pudding, those would be some other ways to utilize it. So lots and lots of different options. So I think that we given you lots of things to think about in regards to protein powder today. I hope you're feeling more confident when you're trying to figure out what the best protein powder is for you. And again, all of these resources I mentioned:, you can find them.

And thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a nutrition question you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook. It's a private group. It's moderated by Nutritional Weight and Wellness nutritionists and nutrition educators, and it provides our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners with a safe, supportive community to ask questions, share ideas, and just get inspired.

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