Ingredients to Avoid in Protein Powder

Choosing the right protein powder can be tricky as most brands are loaded with artificial sweeteners and fillers. Learn what to look for when buying protein powder to make the healthiest choice for your fitness journey.

By URLife Team
11 Jun 2024

Whether you're aiming to boost your performance or manage your weight, you've probably turned to protein powder to help achieve your goals. Scientific research shows that protein is crucial for muscle growth, bone strength, hormone balance, and more. A 2022 systematic review issued in the journal Sports Medicine states that protein supplementation, when combined with resistance training, enhances muscle strength regardless of age, gender, initial protein intake, additional protein intake, or specific body part. While engaging in resistance training, muscle strength improves by 0.72 per cent for every 0.1 g/kg increase in total protein intake, up to 1.5 g/kg of body weight per day. 

Protein powder, a convenient way to get your daily dose, seems like a great solution. But have you ever wondered if it's actually good for you?  


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According to a 2024 observational study in the Medicine Journal,  it was revealed that almost 70 per cent of the 36 supplements had incorrect protein information, with some brands providing only half of what they declared. Additionally, approximately 14 per cent of the samples contained harmful fungal aflatoxins, and 8 per cent showed traces of pesticide residue.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) does not approve of protein-based health and dietary supplements (HDS), but it regulates good manufacturing practices. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the safety of the contents in the supplements, while the FSSAI analyses the content and labelling based on test results submitted by the manufacturer. However, these test results are not made public and remain nontransparent. As a result, protein supplements may be mislabeled, the contents may be deceptive, advertisements misleading, and the quality unclear. 

Protein powder is a concentrated source of protein, available in a powdered form, made from various sources like milk (casein or whey), egg whites, or plants (soy, pea, rice, pumpkin seed, and hemp). These powders often include additional ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, flavourings, thickening agents, vitamins, minerals, and other functional components. The protein content can vary depending on the source: for example, whey protein provides around 25 grams of protein per serving, while pea protein offers about 15 grams per serving. Using protein powder can help you meet your daily protein needs, which is beneficial for muscle growth, weight maintenance, recovery, and overall sports performance.


Related story: Are You Eating More Protein Than You Actually Need?


Potential Risk of Protein Powder

Unfortunately, there is a not-so-sunny side of protein powder that most people are unaware of. In a follow-up to the consumer reports analysis, a 2020 study reported in the journal Toxicology Reports shows that 40 per cent of the 133 protein powder products they tested had elevated levels of heavy metals. 

While protein powder offers some performance benefits, it's not without its drawbacks. Here are a few things to keep in mind when using this supplement. 


  • It's technically a supplement: Unlike food, supplements are primarily regulated by their manufacturers. The FSSAI only steps in when a product contains a new ingredient. Because protein powders are considered supplements, they often aren't thoroughly regulated and may contain harmful ingredients.
  • Too much consumption can cause an upset stomach: Consuming too much protein (more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day) can lead to dehydration, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue, and intestinal discomfort.
  • It may contain added sugars: Some protein powders have minimal ingredients, but others can pack in up to 23 grams of added sugar per scoop, which is nearly the recommended daily limit. Excessive refined sugar intake is linked to numerous health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes.


Related story: 3 Advantages of Consuming Protein First In Every Meal


Ingredients You Don’t Want in Your Protein Powder

When it comes to choosing a protein powder, not all ingredients are created equal. By keeping an eye out for these ingredients, you can ensure that your protein powder is as healthy and effective as possible! Here are some things you should definitely avoid:

1. Gluten: Unless you're specifically looking for a wheat protein, steer clear of gluten. It can cause digestive issues, especially for those with sensitivities or celiac disease.

2. Dextrin / Maltodextrin: These are often used as cheap fillers. They can spike your blood sugar and aren't doing your health any favours.

3. Artificial Sweeteners: Sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame-K, and sucralose might be linked to an increased risk of cancer. Always check the labels before buying protein powder to ensure you're making a safe choice.

4. Skim Milk Powder / Milk Solids: These ingredients can add unnecessary lactose and milk proteins, which might cause digestive discomfort if you're lactose intolerant.

5. Soy Protein: Soy is a controversial ingredient due to potential hormone-disrupting effects and because it's often genetically modified. There are plenty of other plant-based options that can provide protein without these concerns.

6. Vegetable Oils and Fats: These are often added to improve texture, but they can be unhealthy. Look for powders without added oils to avoid unnecessary fat and calories.

7. Thickeners and Gums: Ingredients like carrageenan and xanthan gum are used to improve texture but can cause digestive issues. It's best to avoid them if you have a sensitive stomach.

8. Fillers: Fillers add bulk without nutritional value, which means you're paying for something that isn’t benefiting your health. Stick to protein powders with minimal, high-quality ingredients.

9. Added Fibres: While fibre is good, added fibres in protein powders can cause bloating and digestive discomfort. Get your fibre from whole foods instead.

When it comes to meeting your protein needs, protein powder can be a convenient option. However, not all protein powders are the same—some may include harmful ingredients that could pose risks to your health. To ensure you're choosing a safe and high-quality product, look for protein powders that have been third-party tested and contain the best ingredients.


Related story: Protein-packed Snacks To Try Today


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