Is Your Protein Powder Bad for You? 6 Ingredients to Watch Out For

Your daily protein shake shouldn't look like a chemistry experiment.

The problem nowadays is your average protein powder has 20-40 ingredients that require a degree just to pronounce.

The supplement industry is notorious for cramming suspicious ingredients into the pills and powders that you put in your body on the daily—I'm looking at you Jack3d original formula.

This article is going to flag 6 of the most common protein powder ingredients that you should watch out for and avoid when possible.

is protein powder bad for you

Trying to read protein powder labels like... 

1. Maltodextrin

What is it?

Maltodextrin is a highly processed additive that’s common in a lot of foods. It’s a modified starch based from rice, potatoes, wheat, or—most commonly—genetically modified corn.

maltodextrin is protein powder bad for you

Image via HCMS

Why is it in my protein powder?

Maltodextrin is cheap, it’s multi-functional, and it caters to most diets (i.e. gluten-free, vegan, etc.).

It’s pretty great from a manufacturing standpoint.

It’s commonly used as a thickening agent or filler in protein shakes to improve consistency and texture. It’s also used because it’s a preservative. And sometimes as a sweetener itself. 

Why should I avoid it?

Maltodextrin has a high glycemic index, which means it causes your blood sugar level to spike—in a similar fashion as refined table sugar. It’s safe in small amounts, but as I mentioned, it’s very common and you're probably eating more than you think.

This modified starch has also been linked with negatively affecting your gut’s bacteria—making you more susceptible to diseases. Suppressing the growth of probiotics, while increasing the growth of harmful bacteria such as E. coli.

2. Vegetable Oil

What is it?

Vegetable oils are edible plant oils. They are extracted using chemical solvents or manually crushing plants/seeds. Common vegetable oils include soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, rice bran oil, and coconut oil.

vegetable oil is protein powder bad for you

Why is it in my protein powder?

Vegetable oils can improve the texture and taste. For mass gainers they're also added as cheap calories.  

Why should I avoid it?

First, it should be noted that not all vegetable oils are bad. Virgin olive oil is fine, but it's not the one you'll see in protein powders.

You should avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils should be avoided 100%. Byproducts of the hydrogenation process are trans fats, which increase bad cholesterol AND decrease good cholesterola double whammy.

Trans fats were recently banned in North America, so this is less of a problem to watch out for, but you still see “hydrogenated” on labels from time to time. 

is protein powder bad for you

This should be an automatic 'no-whey'

Another issue with vegetable oils you see in protein powder is that they're rich in omega 6s. 

But aren’t omegas good for me?”

Yes, and you need omega 3s and omega 6s. But in a certain ratio. About 1:1.

But, because of the rampant popularity of cheap, low quality vegetable oils, Western diets commonly feature 20:1 ratios. Excessive omega 6 intake is linked with weight gain and inflammation.

 cricket protein powder has 5x more omega 3s than slamon Fun fact: crickets contain 5x the omega 3s of salmon.

3. Lactose

What is it?

Simply put, lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk.

Why is it in my protein powder?

Lactose makes up roughly 5% of milk and protein powders like whey and casein come from milk.  

lactose is protein powder bad for you

Only 30(ish)% of humans can properly digest milk

Why should I avoid it?

Most the world is lactose intolerant to some extent. It is estimated that 68% of the population is not equipped with enough lactase—the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose—to properly digest milk.

This is a big reason why people frequently experience stomach distress (aka protein farts) from whey and casein protein. 

Do you you tend to experience a...funny stomach...after downing your morning smoothie?

A lactose intolerance won't kill you, but for the sake of friends and family, might I suggest switching protein powders? Maybe a nice, cricket protein powder that has precisely 0 of the ingredients featured on this list?

bite snacks cricket protein

Only 12 very pronounceable ingredients.

4. Added Sugar

What is it?

There’s a difference between naturally occurring sugar, like in fruits, and 'added sugars', that get added to pretty much everything.  

Why is it in my protein powder?

As you might imagine, unsweetened protein powders tend to taste bland or downright gross. So sugars are added for taste.

Simple sugars are also used functionally as fast digesting carbohydrates. These are meant to help replenish glycogen stores after intense or prolonged exercise.

Also...added sugars are straight up addictive. Some studies reveal that hyper-palatable foods (super high in added sugar like sucrose) are just as addictive as cocaine.

Why should I avoid it?

Added sugars like dextrose, sucrose, fructose are ok in small amounts, but quickly become unhealthy.

They are convenient for athletes post workout for the purposes of a fast digesting carbohydrate. But they still aren't good for you. You're better off eating whole food carbs like sweet potatoes, fruit, or rice. I know, not exactly convenient..

But some protein powders have well over 20g of sugar in a serving.

Note: it is recommended that you shouldn’t have more than 24g as a woman or 36g if you’re a man.

You’re better off finding a low sugar protein powder, and blending it with fruits and maybe a nut butter.

Special mention goes to high fructose corn syrup. This simple sugar is common, addictive, and one of the worst carbs you can ingest. Avoid whenever possible.

"I think 24g of sugar per serving sounds about right."

5. Carrageenan

What is it?

Carrageenan comes from Irish Moss (the red seaweed in the pic below).

Why is it in protein powder?

It is a natural additive used to thicken, emulsify, and preserve food and drinks. 

It used to be/still kinda is common in plant-based foods and drinks because it mimics the binding properties of gelatin.  

carrageenan protein powder bad for you

Irish moss grows in abundance along the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America.

Why should I avoid it?

Carrageenan has been controversial for 40 years.

Evidence suggests it triggers inflammation, ulcers, bloating, IBS, and colon cancer.

It used to be common in plant-based milks, but it’s now a selling feature to be ‘carrageenan-free.’

You can find "carrageenan-free" on reputable plant milks nowadays

6. Sugar Alcohol

What is it?

Sugar alcohols are sugar + alcohol hybrids that you can't really digest.

No—they don’t have ethanol in them. So don't fret, you’re not going to get buzzed. They exploded in popularity with the rise of the keto diet and sugar free sodas, hard seltzers, and gummies.

Why is it in protein

Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, and maltitol are common ingredients in protein powders because they contribute sweetness with lower caloric content than sugar.

Why should I avoid it?

Sugar alcohols are considered safe for human consumption, but they are seriously unpleasant for many of us. They are well tolerated in moderation, but it is well known that sugar alcohols have pronounced side effects.

Speaking from experience here, I can’t drink or eat more than one thing with any kind of sugar alcohol without feeling like my insides are being stabbed. 

That’s because sugar alcohols are a type of FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols). Which means they are a type of digestion-resistant carbohydrate that is digested by gut bacteria to produce excess gas. A uniquely unenjoyable experience for those sensitive to it.

Conclusion

Most of the ingredients listed above are considered safe for human consumption in moderation. But many of these ingredients are commonly found in packaged foods. So you're probably eating more than you think.

When it comes to protein powder, simpler is better.

You want a protein powder with around 20g of protein per serving, with low fat and carbs. The reason being that you should be the one adding carbs (through fruits and oats) and fats (through nut butters and seeds) so you control the quality and quantity of the ingredients being used.

Otherwise, you're relying on protein powder manufacturers who will cram in low quality ingredients to engineer certain macro levels as cheaply as possible.

If you're keen to try a high quality protein powder with 0 of the ingredients listed above, you can try Bite cricket protein powder 100% risk free. If you don't enjoy your experience, we'll refund you for your order. Click here to enjoy clean, sustainable protein powder today.

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