Why I don’t use protein powders…and why you shouldn’t either!

The protein powder craze is one health trend that you should definitely avoid, and I’m about to tell you why!

Chose Whole Foods and Whole Dried Foods, organic of course!

Learn what protein powders to avoid and why!

Even with all their amazing health claims on everything from weight loss to better workouts to rock solid abs, I never felt drawn to protein powders. My feeling was always to stay close to nature with my foods, and I just wasn’t sure how a vanilla or chocolate or strawberry-flavored powder felt like anything except an overly processed food. Over the years, I started to hear from clients who were getting sick from these powders – mainly pain in the lower back, bad skin, insomnia, depression and kidney troubles. In every case, the symptoms occurred AFTER starting high doses of protein powder. As I started to look at the ingredients on different labels, I knew that my intuition on this one had been right all along.

Not a Whole Food

Most people mistakenly think that protein powders are just whole foods ground up into a powder form, and that is definitely not true. In fact, in order to get a high protein count, you have to extract the proteins out of the food and leave the rest behind. Otherwise, you could not get anywhere near a high protein concentration. And with protein powders, the more protein, the better.

Pea protein is the worst offender, especially for people who may react to these unnatural extracted proteins. That’s right…pea protein is an extracted protein, made in a lab, and it’s got a high glutamate concentration so it can affect you in the exact way as Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. I’ve had a few clients who taking high doses of protein powders and they complained of migraine headaches, anxiety, and sensitivity to light or sound. Once we took the pea protein out of their diet, all symptoms disappeared.

Note: ALL pea protein is extracted, even if it’s 100% certified organic. The same protein powders can be used in diet and weight loss shakes as well as body-building blends.

Not Natural

Many protein powders contain “natural” flavors (note: the word “natural” is not regulated and can mean just about anything), artificial coloring and/or artificial sweeteners, none of which are good for your health. You can also find Genetically Modified (GMO) ingredients and/or Whey Protein Isolate, another high glutamate/extracted ingredient which is non-vegan and usually not organic so it can be high in antibiotics and pesticides too.

Not Regulated

Since protein powders are considered a “food” and not a supplement, they’re not actually regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In a few cases, independent studies found high levels of heavy metals in certain ingredients such as organic brown rice protein. If your protein powder contains dangerously high levels of arsenic, cadmium or lead, how would you know? You won’t. Until it’s too late that is, and I don’t want that to happen to you!

Many of the ingredients in the mass-produced protein powders come from India and China, and they are not regulated for quality or contaminants. Those low-quality ingredients are most likely irradiated as well.

Hard on the Kidneys

So you’ve got an extracted unnatural powder protein that was heated to super-high temperatures, stripped of its fiber and is no longer a whole food. (Yikes!) What’s your natural, organic body going to do with that? You’ll have excess acid and uric acid build-up that’s created from the metabolic waste in trying to digest and break down all those proteins. Your skin and kidneys carry the burden of trying to release excess acids. You might smell an “acidic or tangy” odor in your sweat. Over time, the kidneys can become weaker and the risk of getting kidney stones or kidney disease can increase. Eating a high acid diet is also not good for your pH health. An anti-cancer diet is an alkaline diet, not a a high acid diet.

Not Around Long Enough to Know

The boom of high protein diets helped to make protein powders a new diet trend. Just read any Paleo, Dukan, Atkins or low carb diet website and you will see everyone is talking about protein – protein – protein.  I’ve even heard people talking about cricket protein powders (and surely that’s coming from China so imagine what’s in it, really).

But here’s the deal –  you can still eat plenty of protein if that’s your thing. Just choose whole foods! There are plenty of natural, vegan, organic whole food plant protein options out there. Since protein powders simply haven’t been around long enough to know if there are long-term consequences to your health, why take a chance?

Choose Real Whole Organic Food

Your body was designed to eat whole foods.

Here are 5 plant-based whole food protein sources:

  • 164g chickpeas = 14.53g  protein
  • 118g pumpkin seeds = 35.21g protein
  • 143g almonds = 30.34g protein
  • 140g sunflower seeds = 29.09g protein
  • 30g hemp hearts protein (3 Tbsp.) = 15.00g protein

Okay to Eat: Organic hemp protein, flax seed and spirulina powder. These are all whole foods; that means the whole seed or algae is dried and ground into a powder form. (The powders you want to avoid are the processed foods, such as “extracted, hydrolyzed, and protein isolates.”)

Best to Avoid: Pea protein, whey isolate, any hydrolyzed protein, natural flavors, aspartame, beet powder (if non-organic, this is usually GMO).

Other good vegetable/plant-based sources of protein include organic spirulina powder, sprouted mung beans, lentils, sesame seeds and dark leafy bitter greens.

You can make a super-healthy Green Smoothie with pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), almonds and spirulina plus some fresh dark, leafy greens for an all-natural plant-based protein meal. You deserve the very best in health so I say choose the best!

Find out why you should avoid the latest protein powder craze

More on Blenders and pH Health:

More on Green Smoothies:

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Jennifer Thompson has been working with raw food, juices, smoothies and detox for over two decades to help people heal. Today, she shares her expertise worldwide, offering lectures, workshops, training and one-on-one consultations at various health and detox retreat centers. She provides Iridology Readings & Health Coaching via Skype and Phone to clients and continues to educate, motivate and inspire others on their journey of healing. When she’s not working, you’ll find her hiking in the mountains, power-walking along the sea or globe-trotting to a new and exotic health destination.
24 replies
  1. Diana
    Diana says:

    Great article! So what can I consume soon after a workout if I stop the protien powders and opt for more natural foods? Especially to gain muscle mass (I am a little underweight) and in liquid form so I can have it straight after the gym? Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Dustin
    Dustin says:

    Thanks for the insightful article Jennifer! It’s nice to see someone who considers the internal health of the body and not just the external results. My question is about whey protein concentrate. I have heard it is preferable to the isolate version and has numerous health benefits. Plus, I can purchase a non-gmo, pasture -based version at my local health food store for cheap. While I’m asking, what are your thoughts on pasture-raised eggs and organic Greek yogurt? These are pretty much the only other non-vegan foods in my diet. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  3. Guichy
    Guichy says:

    Hi,
    Since I don’t eat meat cuz gallbladder was taken out & everytime I would eat meat I get pain so I stopped that was in 1998. I didn’t bother with powder at all, since in 2012 I was diagnosed MS & still won’t try any powder for fear of not knowing what else can harm me.
    My question is, what can I use or replace to have protein in me? cuz I know I need protein. I make raw smoothies lots of time & trying raw recipes as well.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Dear Guichy,

      Protein is readily available in many plant-based foods, including nuts, seeds, spirulina, hemp, leafy greens, and legumes such as chick peas, black beans, and lentils. And actually, you most likely don’t need as much protein as you think. There are many large animals in nature, such as horses, water buffalo, elephants and cows that do not eat meat and have plenty of muscle mass. Where do they get their protein? From greens!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      My best,

      To your health,

      Jennifer

      Reply
  4. James Richardson
    James Richardson says:

    from what I understand hemp oil is removed in the process of making the protein, so it’s not fully a wholefood. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Hi James,

      Thanks for pointing out this important detail and for sharing your concerns. It’s actually true that hemp protein powder has the oil removed so it’s not a whole food. I recommend to use the hemp hearts or whole hemp seeds (organic of course) since they still contain the hemp oil. And actually they taste really yummy too, a nice side bonus!

      In health,

      Jennifer

      Reply
  5. James Richardson
    James Richardson says:

    from what I understand, hemp protein is not a whole food, because it has had the oil removed during the process. Is the oil necessary for giving it the benefits of a whole food? I have been eating it with coconut oil (I guess with hemp oil would be even more accurate). Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Hi James,

      Thanks for pointing out this important detail and for sharing your concerns. It’s actually true that hemp protein powder has the oil removed so it’s not a whole food. I recommend to use the hemp hearts or whole hemp seeds (organic of course) since they still contain the hemp oil. And actually they taste really yummy too, a nice side bonus!

      In health,

      Jennifer

      Reply
  6. Brianna
    Brianna says:

    Hi! Could you please see if these 2 powders are acceptable?

    1. Organic Chlorella Spirulina Powder 225g
    INGREDIENTS: 100% USDA Organic Chlorella Powder ; 100% USDA Organic Spirulina Powder.
    LOCATION: Product of Southern Taiwan; Super Clean; Grown in Sunlight Using Mountain Spring Water
    STRAINS: Cracked Cell Wall Chlorella Pyrenoidosa Mixed With Spirulina (Arthrospira Platensis).
    PRODUCTION: NO GMOs; NO Additives. NO Fillers. NO Preservatives. NO Binders. NO Artificial Colors/ Flavors; NON-Irradiated; VEGAN. Tested and free from contamination of microcystins. Our Chlorella and Spirulina are “pure strain” cultivated in controlled man-made ponds using natural sunlight in an unpolluted environment. With years of experience in microalgae production, regular checkups, stringent control and surveillance over the ponds, we are able to avoid microcystin contaminations.

    2. Pure Food Probiotic Protein Powder Nutritional Supplement (Vanilla): 100% Organic Superfood Ingredients, 512g Pouch

    Ingredients : Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Protein, Organic Pea Protein, Organic Hemp Protein, Organic Mesquite Powder, Organic Lucuma Powder, Organic Vanilla Bean Powder, Organic Whole Leaf Stevia Powder, GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans) probiotic

    Reply
  7. H.S.Anand
    H.S.Anand says:

    I want to know if Sunwarrior organic brown rice protein and Growing Naturals organic brown rice protein are OK or not. Please be kind to give right advice. Thank you. ANAND

    Reply
    • BJER
      BJER says:

      I use their brown rice protein (literally every other from whey all the way to egg gives me stomach aches etc). The rice seems OK to me, though it makes your waste smell quite bad, which in and of itself means that something’s not quite ideal about it.
      Being a bodybuilder though it’s the only way I can get enough protein easily and efficiently. Will look into these seed suggestions though

      Reply
  8. Ananth
    Ananth says:

    Can we build a muscular body with Hemp Proteins and Spirulina powder, when used besides sprouts, beans and pulses as other sources of proteins?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Dear Ananth,

      I would say yes, you can. When I teach classes, I will sometimes say, “Do you ever see a horse or a water buffalo asking each each other – where do you get your protein?”

      Animals instinctively eat correctly according to nature and all is ok. They don’t even get osteoporosis. We humans think they we do better so we race into the lab and try to make new foods all the time. And guess what? We are the sickest species on the planet! I think we have more than a lot to learn by going back to natural, whole and pure!

      Good luck and blessings to your health!

      My best,

      Jennifer

      Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Hi Giorgos,

      Since I have pretty much made it VERY clear that I am not a fan of PEA protein, you could reasonably say that I am not a fan of any protein powders that contain pea protein, including sun warrior brand. The human body was just not designed to digest extracted protein powders. The poor kidneys cannot keep up with that kind of workload. Hemp protein is a WHOLE food protein, not an extracted protein, so that one would be ok! Pea protein is NOT a whole food – it is an extracted protein. I hope that helps!

      Good luck and many blessings to your health!

      Jennifer

      Reply
      • Gary Hodge
        Gary Hodge says:

        Hi Jennifer,
        Thanks for your great advice on protein. I workout pretty vigorously 3-4 times a week cardio & weights and find the plant based protein I take gives me flu like symptoms. After researching on your site I now know why. Could you please recommend the best ingredients to add to my daily green smoothy which contains spirulina,chlorella,barley grass,alfalfa & wheatgrass. Also is it okay to have more than one of these smoothies a day! I would like to increase muscle mass not lose weight.
        Your advice would be much appreciated, many thanks.

        Reply
        • Jennifer Thompson
          Jennifer Thompson says:

          Hi Gary,

          Definitely ok to have more than 1 green smoothie per day! For adding more protein to your smoothies, you should check out my book Green Smoothies for Dummies – available on amazon and iTunes – in there, I have recipes for before and after work-outs.

          Protein is one ingredient, but you should also be thinking about what foods help with muscle recovery and repair. That’s all covered in my book!

          Thanks for stopping by and checking out my site. I’m happy you found out about your protein powder and are looking for ways to upgrade your health!

          My best,

          Jennifer

          Reply
  9. danus
    danus says:

    why hemp and spirulina powders are allowed, do they prepared differently to how the rice and pea proteins are made, what about sprouted rice protein are they still bad??

    Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      Hello Danus,

      Hemp protein is a WHOLE food powder, that means whole hemp seeds are ground into powder form.

      Spirulina powder is a WHOLE food powder, that means spiraling is dried and then ground into powder form.

      Pea protein is an EXTRACTED powder, that means peas are hydrolyzed and messed with in a lab; the fiber and other elements are removed and only a concentrated artificial protein is left (it is artificial because you will not find extracted proteins in nature).

      Rice protein is also an EXTRACTED powder as per above.

      Hopefully you can see now that whole foods are the BEST choice because your body is a WHOLE body! We don’t know how to digest or deal with concentrated proteins and the result is stress, damage and havoc to the kidneys in addition to chronic acidosis, i.e. not good.

      Good luck and healthy blessings !

      Jennifer

      Reply
    • Jennifer Thompson
      Jennifer Thompson says:

      I mentioned hemp protein in the article above but here it is again for those who missed it:

      Okay to Eat: Organic hemp protein, flax seed and spirulina powder. These are all whole foods; that means the whole seed or algae is dried and ground into a powder form. (The powders you want to avoid are the processed foods, such as “extracted, hydrolyzed, and protein isolates.”)

      Thank you!

      Jennifer

      Reply

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