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Is Your Protein Shake Safe?

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, but is your protein shake safe? 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.

Protein

GET INFORMED

We’ve discussed GMO’s here, Artificial Colors here, Natural Flavors here, Carrageenan here, Antibiotics here, and Hormones 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.

NOT CERTIFIED ORGANIC

Most protein powders on the market are not certified organic, nor are they Non-GMO Project Verified. 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:

Heavy Metals
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.

Here’s an excerpt taken from the Consumer Reports investigation on Protein Powders:

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.

Soy Protein

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 and contaminated with Roundup herbicide, 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 leaches calcium and other vital minerals from your body.

Maltodextrin & Fibersol

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 the substance “fibersol”. This 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. 

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.

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 protein-filled real food smoothie like this 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 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 Organic Plant Protein Superfood 30 Shake Tera’s Organic Whey, Nutiva’s Hemp Protein 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.

If you know someone using a questionable protein powder, please share this post with them – I know they will be grateful to know the truth, considering how much some of these types of supplements cost!

Xo,

Vani

Updated 8/2016: Additional research on protein powders added and removed outdated information.

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783 responses to “Is Your Protein Shake Safe?

    1. Hi Cindy – Juice Plus is not certified organic or Non-GMO project certified.

      1. Thank you for confirming this about Juice Plus+. I have friends who are very much into it and is now somewhat becoming a sales/pyramid scheme product. Looking at the ingredients, it seems like it is legit but like you said, it not certified as to what they seem to be.

      2. Dee – I’m sure there are some benefits to taking it, Food Babe just suggests these kinds of products be organic to avoid pesticides and other toxins.

      3. Juice plus is not a pyramid scheme at all. It is direct sales but not a pyramid. The soy is non gmo and is water washed which is a lot less destructive than the typical chemical washing that is done on many other soy products.

      4. For transparency, I am a rep for The Juice Plus Company. I hope that just because of that fact someone does not discredit my educated opinion on this, because it comes from a lot more education than someone making a value judgement from ignorance just because it is a direct sales company.

        No, The Juice Plus Company has not gone through the steps required to be certified organic or have the non-GMO Project labeling. However, I am a huge and vocal advocate of organic and non-GMO and I feel 100% safe consuming Complete and even giving it to my young children. The company’s ethics and safety standards are the highest I have seen and the more I learn about the company, the more I trust what I am feeding my family.

    2. i drink the juice plus powder b/c it does not contain milk. it does say that the soy is non gmo. it isn’t organic; however i think it’s almost better than organic. all of the crops may not be “certified organic” but, they test all of it to ensure it’s free of pesticides, toxins, etc.

      and i believe the capsules are almost 100% vegan if that’s important to you. it’s a great product. maybe the food babe knows something i don’t but i can’t see why anyone would steer away. i don’t think the “certified organic” or “non gmo project” involvement is black and white. there are still fantastic options that are better than those organizations that have the label.

      and, it’s delicious! in fact, i think i might go make one 🙂 i love the chocolate.

      1. Well said Crissy – things are not always black and white. And the more I learn about government organizations like the FDA and USDA, the less I trust that they have us, the consumers’, best interests at heart. I actually like that Juice Plus has not jumped through the hoops for these certifications. I definitely support the Non-GMO Project and am definitely more willing to purchase products with this label. However, I know that I am giving my family the highest quality ingredients through my Juice Plus products.

      2. We have been drinking Juice Plus Complete for a few months now, and it is really yummy! We love it especially because it is gluten and dairy free. However, I just realized that it contains Carrageenan. This is an additive we should all minimize if not avoid completely. I am going to write to the company to see if they will remove it with a safer ingredient.

  1. I feel I found the ultimate protein on the market, here is why. Unfortunately, with almost every single whey protein, there’s a break down in the protein because of the processing that companies use. When talking about whey protein and how it’s processed or created, not all processes and whey proteins are created equally.

    Whey is the byproduct of cheese making. Most companies use salts, enzymes, acids or heat to separate out the curds from the whey and casein. These 4 processes absolutely change whey and casein. This type is called “denatured” meaning the proteins are altered through chemical or physical means so that some of its original properties are lost or diminished.

    There’s another way in which the curds and whey and casein can be separated. It’s a patented, exclusive process called cold, ion exchange emicro-filtration. This process does not use the above-mentioned 4 processes. This process is how our Isagenix undenatured whey consentrate, milk protein concentrate and low-heat non-fat dry milk is created. This process is incredibly expensive but protects the whey in its natural God-given state- peptides, amino acids etc and keeps it undenatured. These undenatured proeins are then cold air dried in a huge spray-drying drum, using no heat and then it’s carefully sealed in crates.

    Isagenix whey comes from New Zealand, free-range cows that are exclusively grass fed (free from herbicides, pesticides etc.), milked and rested according to season and free of hormones, antibiotics and steroids. These are happy cows. This whey is exclusive to Isagenix and is what is within our protein products- IsaLean Shakes and IsaPro.

  2. I just checked the nutrition label for shakeology-vanilla…and they may have updated since you reported this, but I did notice one small change…and that is instead of refined sugar, they list stevia-leaf as an ingredient…so that is 1 step better 🙂 lol…Any positive change is good as far as I can tell 😀

  3. Wondering your thoughts on Dr. Mercola’s Pro-Optimal Whey and where it falls on your list of acceptable or not?

  4. Any thoughts on Jay Robb protein shakes? I’m trying to go dairy free, low glycemic and gluten free. Thanks for any tips on this.

  5. Just fyi shakeology has a vegan version so this is very misleading. The only reason it is not certified organic is some ingredients are sourced by farmers in small countries that cannot afford the certification, also not sure where you get the refined sugar from as it has stevia leaf.

    1. Exactly! The only two nutritional supplements I can tolerate are Vegan Shakeology in Chocolate and Tropical Strawberry. They do NOT contain soy — I’m allergic to it and after months of drinking it I would had a reaction by now. It’s not a ‘protein drink’ but a whole food supplement.

    1. ADVOCARE is not organic. It’s not that the ingredients themselves are necessarily toxic but that the chemicals used ON those ingredients prior to formulating are probably toxic. And, hence, why Organic is typically the best quality to pursue.

  6. All the above products mentioned are sources of msg – not added but created by the manufacturing process. Any protein isolated or concentrated or hydrolyzed (hemp. pea or rice protein) creates msg. Check out http://www.truthinlabeling.org. Sunwarrior rice protein is the only one I found that is actually good for people. Their other products are just testing neutral. I’ve never tried it since as a healthy vegan I don’t feel the need for protein powders of any kind.

    You also missed the harmful artificial sweeteners found in Body By Vi. When I last read the label it contained sucralose and AceK.

    Soy is isolated in aluminum vats using acid and alcohol washes. The end product is full of aluminum.

  7. Hi Food Babe,

    Can you let me know if you have heard anything about the Quest Protein Bars? Most of the ingredients appear to be okay/better than the standard protein bar, but I’ve also noticed that they have “natural flavors” included in their ingredient list. They’ve got a few others that are of some concern to me as well such as Erythritol, which may be derived from corn.

    Could you look into this brand of protein bars? Their becoming pretty popular and are by no means cheap as they run about $3.00 per bar. It’s very easy to spend $60+ a month on these bars if you’re eating two per day, one in between meals.

  8. I believe Essante Organics 7.365 PH Shake is the absolute best in the business. Our shake is certified 100% toxin free, organic, non-GMO, raw vegan – and it tastes great!

  9. Hi, guys! I see a lot of you have requested information on more protein sources. I have researched many many protein shakes and bars as I needed to up my intake of protein for bulking my muscle mass.

    For my personal use, I drink Garden of Life RAW sprouted rice protein with almond milk. I have gluten and lactose and soy issues, and this is free of all free, supporting a vegan diet as well. I drink the vanilla (sweetened with stevia leaf-not an already powdered stevia brand that has additives). I think it’s a bit chalky, but compared to others I have tried, it is my favorite. I have not ever tried the meal replacement or the Fit Meal Replacement… But from reading the ingredients, it is not as pure nor are they vegan sources… and eating a dairy/soy source upsets stomachs, especially when mixed with sugar substitutes like stevia and xylitol.

    I looked into Quest Bars because it seems all my gym-junkie friends are into their “Quest Bars”. They are gluten-free, so I looked into them. They seem to be pretty good… on the outside. The first two ingredients are whey protein isolate and milk isolate. Isolates are not good sources of protein and I would never recommend anyone to eat anything with any type of isolate (whether vegan, dairy, soy, or legume…). ISOLATES ARE NOT TRUE SOURCES OF PROTEIN! They are protein, but it’s stripping the protein of all of its natural antioxidants and vitamins to condense the protein into a smaller portion. Proteins need to be eaten with their natural fats, vitamins, etc. And isolates don’t provide that, creating an incomplete protein that does your body less good than if you actually ate a wholesome protein that was less grams…

    I ordered (last weekend actually) on Amazon the Rise Protein bars. They contain 3 ingredients (I got the Almond honey ones). It is whole whey protein, almonds, and honey. I haven’t gotten them or tried one yet, but I read really good reviews on them. They do have a vegan bar (the Sunflower butter ones) that you can only order on the risebar.com website for $28/box. The ones on Amazon were discounted to $23.50/box, so I went with those, since I am not strictly vegan, I just prefer vegan sources if possible.

    However, I simply recommend making your own protein bars. You can control what is in them, which types of protein you use (vegan, etc. etc.), as well as organic locally grown honey and pure stevia, rather than brands with additives, like truvia. Plus, you can make up to 40 servings at once. And the ones I make, I can get 40 servings for about $20… 50 cents a bar, all organic, and I know what’s in them vs. a Quest bar that has isolates and other gross stuff… I think I know what I would choose!

    I hope this helps you all 🙂
    Best wishes!
    Marissa Dreyer

    1. Super helpful Marissa, esp on the Questbars. I heard these bars were great and I also looked at the ingredients and they looked healthy/good but some contain Splenda and I think they are too starchy as I can’t have starch, gluten or dairy. Thanks!

  10. Can you comment and/or investigate on hydrolyzed whey protein, which is not listed as one of the whey protein types to avoid.

    Hydrolyzed whey protein is often listed as a hidden source of MSG. From what I understand, the hydrolyzed process breaks down the protein into its component amino acids. One of the amino acids, is glutamate, the base amino acid in MSG. I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock that said it is the free glutamate, when separated out cause the excitotoxin impact (the MS is simply the salt that amino acid is bound to for traditional MSG). However, I cannot conclusively find out if free glutamate in hydrolyzed whey protein does indeed react in your body like MSG.

    For a long time I used On Gold Standard Natural 100% Whey which is probably the closest main brand commercial whey I’ve found with minimal ingredients, but I’ve become concerned because it’s using hydrolyzed whey protein and that my body is reacting like it is consuming MSG.

  11. Bio Trust protein powder is the best ! GMO FREE, Organic, low glycemic, tastes great, quality protein from more than 1 source, – you REALLY NEED TO LOOK AT THIS PRODUCT .

  12. Is there anything you can tell me about the Rockin Wellness product? Is it trust worthy?
    Thanks in advance for any information you can provide.

    Monique

    1. I would like to know your thoughts on Rockin Wellness as well. All ingredients are organic and many are considered a super food. Also, would you not endorse Dr. Mercola’s protein powder? Thanks,
      Christie

  13. I have lost 47 pounds in 3 months with this product. Best around. Essante’ Organics 7.365 pH SHAKE is an OUTRAGEOUSLY DELICIOUS 100% chemical free meal replacement &/or weight loss shake and it is the foundation of your alkaline lifestyle. 7.365 is perfect alkalinity for the human body. It comes in 2 flavors you will be hooked on; rich creamy Chocoholic Kiss and Vanilla Ice Cream Rave! Sweetened with Stevia, 7.365 pH SHAKE is a proprietary, low carbohydrate, low glycemic, high fiber, vegan, whole super food, meal replacement shake that uses the highest quality vegan protein sources available (brown rice & yellow chick pea). This easily digestible formula is high vitamins and nutrients, providing your body with an extensive array of naturally occurring amino acids, the building blocks of protein. 7.365 pH SHAKE assists your body to naturally burn fat FAST and become pH balanced and alkaline all at the same time! 7.365 pH SHAKE is whey, gluten, soy, dairy, cholesterol, chemical, GMO and sugar free. ALKALIZE, ENERGIZE & METABOLIZE with Essante’ Organics 7.365 pH SHAKE. Now you can enjoy pH perfection & perfect nutrition… “7.365”…7 days a week 365 days a year! SUPPLEMENT FACTS PER SERVING: Serving Size: 1 rounded scoop (approx. 31g) Servings Per container: 28 Calories: Vanilla: 93 Chocolate: 105 Total Fat: 1.1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0g Total Carbohydrate: Vanilla: 6g Chocolate: 8g Dietary Fiber: Vanilla: 3.6g Chocolate: 5g Sugars: 0g Protein: Vanilla: 18g Chocolate: 18.6g Proprietary Blend: Vanilla: 31g Chocolate: 27.5g PROPRIETARY BLEND: Vegan Protein Blend 22,150mg Non-GMO Sprouted Brown Rice Protein, Yellow Pea Protein, Inulin, Flax Seed, Organic Alfalfa, Organic Quinoa, Organic Millet, Organic Amaranth, and Vegetable Cellulose. Visit http://www.essanteorganics.com/triton

  14. Great list! I wish you had assessed isagenix. I think there stuff is junk, but its MLM and people promote it and believe the hype.

  15. Wow a very thought provoking article…but my question is if protein shakes like Muscle Milk is bad, are all protein powders that are marketed to body building/ muscle mass and high impact workouts bad too? I’ve used products with soy and whey isolate, and although I could use your approved items, I’m confused on whether the use of Hemp protein powder (just using as an example) would assist in yielding the same intended results…
    DC

    1. I’m curious about this tpp! Would love to see Food Babe’s take on this for those of us that do a lot of strength training and want to build lean muscle mass…

    1. I have been using Isagenix for over a year now ! No GMO’S here , All Natural and Organic, Dairy Free Systems available as well.
      I have lost 83 lbs total and Maintaining !
      I Love my Shakes !

      1. I just started Isagenix and hoping for great results like yours but I have been scouring the labels to ensure no toxins …found a couple of additives (i.e. maltodextrin) but would love to see where I can confirm no GMOs and its Organic promise … can you tell me how to confirm that..it would make me feel a lot better 🙂
        Thanks and congratulations on your success!

  16. I find that Paradise Maca Up Vanilla Flavor Vegetarian Protein powder contains great organic ingredients and doesn’t contain gluten, hemp, soy, dairy, or casein. As a person who cannot tolerate gluten or dairy, I find this protein powder good but you need to blend it with a banana otherwise it can taste a bit chalky. Has anyone else tried it? Also comes in chocolate flavour which is nice with blended frozen raspberries. Both do contain natural flavor so it is possible that there are hidden ingredients?? Anyone know?

  17. Hi, I emailed customer service for Vega and they said that they are GMO free . They are in the process of getting certified and once that is complete it will be reflected on their labels. I was happy to hear this as it is one of my favorite plant based protein/nutrition powder!

  18. I saw you stated that Vega has GMO’s in it but it doesn’t – they are in the process of getting the label but it’s a big process with the Non GMO project. All the raw materials are sourced out from local to the origin farms and they are too small to afford the labels. Vega has high standards! Where do you get your information on everything?

  19. Essante’ Organics 7.365 pH SHAKE is an OUTRAGEOUSLY DELICIOUS, certified organic, 100% chemical free meal replacement &/or weight loss shake and it is the foundation of your alkaline lifestyle. 7.365 is perfect alkalinity for the human body. Sweetened with Stevia, 7.365 pH SHAKE is a proprietary, low carbohydrate, low glycemic, high fiber, vegan, whole super food, meal replacement shake that uses the highest quality vegan protein sources available (brown rice & yellow chick pea). This easily digestible formula is high vitamins and nutrients, providing your body with an extensive array of naturally occurring amino acids, the building blocks of protein. 7.365 pH SHAKE assists your body to naturally burn fat FAST and become pH balanced and alkaline all at the same time! 7.365 pH SHAKE is whey, gluten, soy, dairy, cholesterol, chemical, GMO and sugar free. Visit http://www.essanteorganics.com/triton

  20. Please investigate food in cinemas …the amount of salt, GMO, FAT.. PUBLIC NEEDS TO BE AWARE

  21. MANY inaccuracies here in regards to Shakeology. Shakeology uses non-GMO fructose from BEETS which is not controversial AT ALL. It’s low glycemic and works as a transport vehicle for the over 70 all whole-food nutrients obtained from sources around the world. Any additional sweetness in Shakeology comes from Stevia or NATURAL ingredients like Lo Hun Gao, Yacon, and fruit extracts. In terms of rbGH, the whey used in Shakeology is the highest quality commercially available, not to mention there are 2 VEGAN flavors to select, which this article fails to even mention. These use sprouted-fermented brown rice protein and pea protein as the primary sources. In terms of a meal replacement shake (which Shakeology is….it is NOT simply a “protein shake,” you cannot get much better than Shakeology.

    1. Thank you for the clarification Keith!! Shakology is the Most Amazing Meal Replacement on the market! It’s definitely not considered a protein Shake. I do believe we need to eat healthy clean food, but that is Not always possible! And, considering our soils have been depleted …. Shakeology is a Key part of my Daily Regimen 🙂 I absolutely Love Food babes passion for bringing awareness to the masses of people of what we are truly putting in our bodies! XOX 🙂
      http://shake.gettingfittogether.com/UFTCarmen

  22. I am a user of and a promoter of the Body by Vi program, and I love them. Since being able with the use of this product and healthy eating been able to stop taking my blood pressure meds and my labs look great. The 0.03 sweetner is less than most sweetners in candy cookies or even prepackaged fruit. I add leafy veggies to my shakes as well. Everything in moderation. angelaparks10.bodybyvi.com

  23. I saw that Isagenix was mentioned in the Food Babe’s initial post on Facebook, but didn’t see it listed on the chart. Would you mind letting me know what you think about it? Thank you!

    1. I just started Isagenix and would love to hear if you found out the answer to your question! Has food babe recommended their products before?

  24. Just as an FYI The VEGAN Shakeology’s would not have the Whey in it therefore would also not have rbGH either as it’s not dairy. They are not certified organic but they take great care and research to get the best possible ingredients from around the world and are very conscious of how ingredients are grown and cultivated. Even the Whey protein is very pure. Personally we use the Vegan and love them! We have more energy, lost 130 lbs between my husband and I and at 43 and 44 years old we have never been healthier. Of course we eat clean and workout daily as well. Thank you Food Babe for all you are doing!!!

  25. While well intention, I believe you go too broad. More specifically with Shakeology. In the Vegan Shakeology flavors, a non-soy protein was used in order to avoid GMO ingredients. And then Shakeology does not contain refined sugar. I recommend you check your sources because if you’re reporting Shakeology incorrectly, you may be doing the same to others.

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