What is the best protein powder?

Have you ever stared at the endless shelves of protein powders and been completely unsure of where to start?

 

There are whey isolates, whey concentrates, rice, hemp, pea, casein, soy…the list goes on and on. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these options.

By far, the most common protein powder supplement is whey. This milk-derived protein is found primarily in two forms: Concentrate and Isolate. Occasionally, you’ll even find a blend of the two. The difference comes down to the level of processing required to make the final product.

A whey concentrate is the least processed and will contain about 80% protein with the other 20% being carbohydrates and fats. Concentrates are favored by consumers looking to increase their protein intake, but aren’t necessarily concerned with their macronutrient ratios (carbohydrates, fat, protein) and by those looking for a high-protein snack on-the-go. 

A whey isolate goes through additional processing methods to remove as much of the fat and carbohydrates as possible resulting in a very lean protein (90% or more protein). Isolates are popular with consumers who are macro-minded, specifically, those trying to reduce their intake of carbohydrates. This can be anyone from weightlifters to moms on-the-go to cancer patients.

Casein is another dairy protein. Unlike fast-digesting whey protein, casein digests very slowly making it appealing to athletes focused on maintaining muscle mass. This protein is typically used prior to bedtime with the idea that it will continuously supply amino acids for upto 4 hours while you sleep. Unfortunately, as discussed in our blog on Protein Enzymes, the average person has only 90 minutes to digest protein before it reaches the large intestine. Once in the large intestine, any undigested protein will begin to putrefy and cause excess gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable digestive distress. Putrefied protein in the large intestine has been associated with colon cancer in several studies due to the creation of toxic compounds.

 

Conventional, Organic, or Grass-Fed: Does it Really Matter?

 

Conventional Dairy vs Organic

Regular whey protein is derived from conventionally-raised cattle and is the least expensive option. Of course, as we already know, the least expensive option is rarely the better choice.

A recent blind laboratory study published by Cambridge University Press on June 26, 2019(1) analysed retail milk samples from across the USA. These samples included an even number of conventional and organic whole and 2% dairy milks sold under different brand names for a total of 69 half-gallons. The study measured the levels of 5 pesticides (atrazine, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin, diazinon, and permethrin) and 5 antibiotics (amoxicillin, oxytetracycline, sulfamethazine sulfadimethoxine, and sulfathiazole) currently in use by the dairy cattle industry.

26-60% of all the conventional milk samples tested positive for these pesticide residues, while all organic samples were shown to be free of pesticide residues (*exception includes 3 “legacy pesticides” that are no longer in use but remain environmentally persistent).

60% of all conventional milk samples tested positive for at least one antibiotic, while the organic samples had no detectable residues. One conventional sample had an amoxicillin residue that exceeded the FDA limit. Additionally, 2 of the pesticides (sulfamethazine and sulfathiazole) were detected in 37% and 26% of the conventional samples despite having a zero tolerance level for use in lactating cattle.

The study also analysed the levels of bGH and IGF-1 hormones. The median levels in the conventional samples were approximately 20 times higher for bGH and 3 times higher for IGF-1 than the organic samples.

Potential allergens aside, there have been many studies on the effects of antibiotics and pesticides on human and animal digestive tracts that suggest excessive or prolonged exposure may be harmful. Specifically, a significant decrease in beneficial gut bacteria is evident after a single dose of antibiotics and since pesticides are meant to kill bacteria, it makes sense that they too would harm the delicate microbiome. This microbiome is essential to the human immune system and metabolism. If it is weakened, we become more vulnerable to infectious bacteria and viruses and we will have more difficulty digesting food and absorbing its nutrients. Certain studies have also shown damage to the intestinal lining from exposure to pesticides residues. 

Opting for organic milk products, including whey and casein protein supplements, may help limit your exposure to these unwanted residues.

 

Organic vs Grass-Fed

A cows natural diet consists of various grasses in open pastures. The problems in conventionally raised cows come from being fed grains such as GMO corn. These unnatural diets prevent cows from being their healthiest and they often suffer from a host of diet-related illnesses. If the cows aren’t healthy, how could they’re milk be?

Organic and Grass-Fed are terms you will come across frequently in the protein supplement industry. When it comes to diet, there are 2 main distinctions:

  • Organic protein (milk) comes from cows fed a fully organic diet of grass, hay, and feed.
  • Grass-Fed protein (milk) comes from cows fed only grasses

While organic may sound better, that isn’t always the case depending on how much grass the cows receive versus how much grain. Organic could mean 20% grass and 80% grain – an unnatural diet that could reduce the overall nutritional value of any milk that is produced.

When it comes to grass-fed protein, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to know if it’s a good choice because there is no official Grass-Fed certification as there is with the USDA certified organic seal. Simply put, “grass-fed” doesn’t not mean organic! Cows can be labeled as “grass-fed”, but still be given hormones and antibiotics.

To get the nutritional benefit of grass-fed whey without the risks that come with conventional whey proteins, be sure to look for the terms “hormone-free”, “antibiotic-free”, and “non-GMO” (for pesticide use).


Grass-Fed Whey with Hydrolyzing Enzyme Support

Mother Earth Labs’ Grass-Fed Whey is made from the milk of Wisconsin cattle raised on family farms. This high-quality protein has a fully traceable history as the milk goes directly from the farms to the processing facility. From there, the finished protein is sent straight to our manufacturing facility in Texas. Here we flavor it and add the powerful and unique enzyme blends that have shown in third-party testing to break this protein down into individual amino acids within 10 minutes. Feed your muscles lightning fast with the high-quality USA protein in our Grass-Fed Whey protein.


Veggie Protein

 

Soy

As one of the most common plant protein sources, soy protein supplements are likely to catch your eye. It’s a “complete” protein meaning it provides all essential amino acids and it’s a relatively inexpensive choice, but it may not be the right choice for every person.

As with many plant foods, soy contains phytates (phytic acid). Phytates bind with certain metals and minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium and reduce their overall bioavailability. For those with well-balanced diets, soy is not likely to be a cause for concern, but for individuals with mineral imbalances and those with diets high in legumes and grains, the potential for mineral deficiencies increases.

Isoflavones are another compound found in soy foods and are classified as goitrogens and phytoestrogen – both of which come with their own potential problems.

Goitrogens are compounds that interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. Iodine is used by the thyroid to make hormones such as T3 and T4, but when there is not enough iodine available, these hormones become imbalanced and lead to a host of symptoms related to thyroid dysfunction.

Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that act like estrogen in our bodies. The science on whether phytoestrogens are beneficial or harmful to human health is mixed and may vary by age and other health factors. Studies on young women suggest that excessive phytoestrogens may be associated with infertility, certain cancers, and other hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, while other studies done on post-menopausal women suggest phytoestrogen supplements like soy isoflavones might help protect against hormone related cancers.

With so much conflicting information, we recommend avoiding soy protein whenever possible.

 

Other Plant Sources

The most common criticism with veggie proteins is that they are not complete proteins or are very low in specific essential amino acids. Additionally, many veggie proteins powders are loaded with high amounts of carbohydrates, fiber, and fat, while providing low amounts of protein. Thankfully, these issues can be overcome by mixing the right protein sources and through unique processing methods.

Brown rice protein is a hypoallergenic option for those trying to avoid milk-based products. It is low in the essential amino acid lysine, but combining it with another power plant protein such as pea protein which is high in lysine balances the amino acid profile. In fact, when combining brown rice and pea proteins, their amino acid profile comes very close to that of whey protein.

Sacha Inchi seed is a lesser known source for veggie protein, but it should not be overlooked. This complete protein provides an amino acid profile to both whey and the combination of brown rice and pea proteins. These seeds are also naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids and have a high digestibility score (0.9 out of 1.0).

The takeaway for veggie proteins is that you want a well balanced mix to ensure you receive an ideal amino acid profile that includes all essential amino acids.


Veggie Fusion with Omega 3 support

Mother Earth Labs’Veggie Fusion combines 5 organic plant proteins (sacha inchi, pea isolate, artichoke, brown rice, and milled chia seeds) to provide a uniquely powerful amino acid profile coupled with omega 3 fatty acids and non-GMO sunflower lecithin phospholipids. Plus! We also add specialized digestive enzymes that have shown in a third-party study to completely break down the protein into usable amino acids within 10 minutes for lightning fast absorption. The Omega 3s and phospholipids provide additional support for brain health, cellular integrity and flexibility, nutrient absorption and so much more. Lastly, our organic Veggie Fusion protein is so smooth you won’t be able to stop yourself from saying “No Whey!”


  1. Welsh, J., Braun, H., Brown, N., Um, C., Ehret, K., Figueroa, J., & Boyd Barr, D. (2019). Production-related contaminants (pesticides, antibiotics and hormones) in organic and conventionally produced milk samples sold in the USA. Public Health Nutrition, 22(16), 2972-2980. doi:10.1017/S136898001900106X

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