Not all protein is created equal. We know that we need to take in protein each and every day in order to continue to build healthy muscle. The question is, what kind of protein is best? What are the best natural protein powders you can use when it comes to protein supplementation. If you are like many people you are probably considering starting a new healthy regime. One focused on proper eating with plenty of exercise. That new eating regime may include adding a protein powder shake, perhaps for breakfast.
How will you know which are the best natural protein powders for your body?
Truth is, without a bit of research you don’t. But the information exists. There are two different sources of protein: from animals and from plants. Even after narrowing it down to these two options there are several ways to access this protein. Each has their own pros and cons, depending on what you need from the protein powder. This knowledge will give you a head start on finding the best natural protein powder supplement for you.
What are the best natural protein powders for building muscle or getting slim?
There are a variety of reasons for including natural protein powders as a supplement to a healthy diet. For athletes it is a way to keep the body moving powerfully by giving it the energy it needs immediately. Think of that as finding the right type of gasoline for your car, one that gives it a boost when it needs it. For others it is to ensure they stay healthy by slimming down using a special diet. Believe it or not, taking in more protein can help you to lose weight, if you take the right kind.
But these two reasons need different types of protein. One is a fast-acting protein to quickly replace muscle-building proteins consumed by an athlete. The other is a slow acting one that continues to nourish throughout the day.
But how do you know which kind you need?
Animal or Plant Based Protein?
All protein must come from one of two sources. It is either from an animal or from a plant. Most people are surprised to find out plants produce protein. The truth is protein is such an essential building block for sustained health it exists in many different forms. Not surprisingly, where the protein comes from can affect how our body metabolizes it. Let’s look at animal based protein first.
Whey protein – a complete animal based protein
Most of us think of meat, let’s use beef as an example, when we say we are consuming animal based protein. While it is true, it isn’t the only source or the only way to consume it. Eating protein in this manner is slow and takes a lot of work for our body to digest. It is the most complete source for everything from protein to essential amino acids because it most closely resembles our own bodies. But it takes up a lot of energy just to digest it and get to those proteins and amino acids.
With the advent of protein powders many have found a quick and easy way to add more protein to their diet. Best of all it is the right protein. It allows us to take in that protein without having to eat enormous amounts of meat. One of the most popular natural protein powders is whey protein. It is animal based because it comes from milk. It is easy to digest as well as inexpensive because it comes from a by-product of making cheese, whey. In addition as a protein powder it is fast and easy to consume.
For many this makes it the perfect natural protein powder when they want to add protein to their diet. In fact, whey is such a perfect food for humans that our own human milk is actually 60% whey as opposed to the 20% we find in cow’s milk. (1) When you add in that it also provides all of the essential amino acids our body needs it begins to look like there is no reason to use anything else.
But there are some drawbacks to using whey as a protein powder supplement for your diet. The biggest one is that it contains lactose, a sugar that many people have a low tolerance for in their diets. It can cause digestive problems such as flatulence, diarrhea and nausea. However there are other forms of whey protein powder that have been processed to remove the lactose.
Isolate whey protein powder has reduced fat and lactose. It also has a lower amount of the benefits from whey such as the amino acids that are essential to a healthy diet.
Hydrolysate whey protein powder is further refined to the point that you could say it is pre-digested for you. This makes it easy to consume with the least amount of side effects. It also is absorbed faster into the body. This makes it ideal for athletes who want a fast intake of protein after a strenuous workout.
Uses for whey natural protein powder
Because it is such a total protein supplement, other uses have developed for whey natural protein powder. Although it began as a muscle builder for athletes, the supplement has grown to do more. Medical and health uses have branched into new areas that are critical for recovery.
Weight Loss – It may seem counter-intuitive that you would consume more protein in order to lose weight. However, research has shown that eating more protein will boost your metabolism, causing you to burn more calories and thus lose weight. (2)
Cancer Treatment – In some types of cancer, whey protein supplements have been found to have an “anti-tumor effect”. (3) More studies are needed but so far the results have been quite promising.
Lowering High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure has become a common problem in the world today. Since this is one of the leading causes of heart disease any tool to reduce it is important. Recent studies have shown that increases in the amount of bioactive peptides, found in many dairy products, helps reduce blood pressure. (4)Whey protein powder is one product that is rich in these peptides naturally.
Casein powder – the other milk-based protein powder
While whey protein powder may be the most popular type, another effective milk-based protein is casein powder. Like whey it is created as a bi-product of cheese and so has all the properties of a dairy product.
However, casein has a bonding agent that helps it to coagulate easier. This means it will digest at a much slower pace than whey. This coagulation property makes it the perfect protein to take with a meal or right before heading to bed.
Best natural protein powders – plant based proteins
On the other hand, many people prefer to not eat any kind of animal protein. Others have a strong reaction to the sugars in dairy called lactose and would rather stay completely clear of it. For these folks we can point to plant based proteins as a great source for a protein shake.
There are several plants that are exceptionally high in proteins. The most well known is soy. But seeds, grains and other types of plants can also be a great source of protein. Simply be aware that outside of soy, most plant protein does not show up naturally in very high amounts.
Soy protein powders
There is a reason humans have been consuming soybean plants for over 5,000 years. It is one of the most complete protein providers amongst all plant sources. But soy has recently gained a bad reputation amongst health supporters. The presence of phytoestrogens or isoflavones has led to some concerns. Recent trials leave the question unresolved as these can also be beneficial in some cases
In addition, today’s modern soy protein powders have been heat treated to eliminate certain specific enzymes which prevent the absorption of protein in the body. The amounts of actual isoflavones that are in most soy protein powders are not sufficient to cause concern.
The pro side to soy is simple. Of all the plant-based proteins it has the most complete as well as the highest quality of protein. In addition soy contains all of the essential amino acids. These EAAs are present in soy in the proper proportions to help promote a healthy body and keep us strong.
Quinoa protein powders
Many today look at Quinoa as a super-food because it provides so much great nutrition. The Incas called it their Mother and for a good reason. Beyond providing protein it also contains many of the minerals we need to maintain healthy bodies. These include manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Quinoa has flavonoids that are antioxidants. These help our bodies fight cancer, rid it of inflammation and even act as an anti-depressant. It is also gluten free because it is actually a type of grain. These all together make it a protein powder that works for many types of diets.
Hemp seed protein
One of the great health developments this century is the rediscovery of hemp. It may come from the same family of plants as marijuana, but commercially grown hemp seeds have very little of the active ingredients that have made marijuana so popular. The nut of the plant is a complete protein, including all the essential amino acids our body needs.
One of the reasons some users prefer hemp seed protein powder is that it has a nutty taste. This is because the hemp seed is actually more like a nut than a seed. Highly digestible hemp seed protein is a great alternative to soy.
Rice and pea based protein powders
Both of these plant based natural protein powders are inexpensive and easy to use. Because they do not derive from animals they are ideal for vegans and vegetarians or anyone who is lactose sensitive. They do not contain the essential amino acids that soy and hemp have, but are a good supplement for additional protein in your diet.
However they do contain extra vitamins and minerals, depending on the source. For non athletes and adults who do not have a strenuous physical daily routine, these might be a good alternative if you need a non-dairy based protein powder.
Finally – a word about the word ‘natural’
You may have noticed that from the start the term natural protein powders have been used. This is no accident or marketing term and could be more important for your health than you may be aware. When choosing the best natural protein powder you want to be sure it not only delivers what you need, it doesn’t deliver what you don’t need. If you don’t pay attention to this you can find yourself with some unwanted side effects that you didn’t anticipate. There are plenty of protein powders on store shelves that add ingredients that may contribute to the problems you are experiencing. This is why we continue to stress that reading the labels before you buy is so important.
Generally when we talk about natural protein powders we are referring to those that use organic sources. A good example is whey protein from organic raw milk that comes from grass-fed, hormone-free cows. Because so many people suffer from sensitivity to lactose, wheat and sugar it is important for you to know if your protein powder includes these ingredients. Artificial sweeteners are a common addition in many protein powders and they can cause headaches, gastric distress and even migraines.
Some brands will add vegetable oils or fats to make the powder taste better. The problem is that these will often contain trans fats, which raise our bad cholesterol and lower our good cholesterol. If soy is a problem for you, then even using such vegan-friendly protein powders as pea may be a source of gas and bloating if it has a thickener in it such as xanthan gum. When looking for that perfect protein powder, keep in mind that natural along with the word organic will always be your best bet for the least amount of problems while achieving your goals.
- Bo Lönnerdal, Nutritional and physiologic significance of human milk proteins, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 102, 6
- MA Veldhorst, Presence or absence of carbohydrates and the proportion of fat in a high-protein diet affect appetite suppression but not energy expenditure in normal-weight human subjects fed in energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition, (Nov. 2010) 104(9): 1395-405
- Bounous, Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment, Anti-cancer research (Nov-Dec 2000) 4785-92
- Susan Fluegel, Whey beverages decrease blood pressure in prehypertension and hypertensive young men and women, International Dairy Journal (Nov 2010) 20-11, 753-60
- Heather Patisaul and Wendy Johnson, The pros and cons of phytoestrogens, Front Neuroendocrinol, (Oct. 2010) 400-419
- CR Whitehouse, The potential toxicity of artificial sweeteners, The Official Journal of the Association of Occupational Health Nurses (2008) 56 (6): 251-59