How to Find a Protein Powder That Supports Your Healing Journey

This article is oriented towards those using Protein Powders during recovery from chronic illness, it is not necessarily going to be helpful for those looking to lose or gain weight within the context of athletic training. From a holistic perspective, Protein powder is a processed food – and meant to be an addition to your diet, not a replacement for real whole foods. However, if you are deficient in amino acids, are struggling to put on weight, have reduced mobility or are on a restricted diet that requires a lot of home cooking, I completely understand the desire to have something that you can just throw in a blender with some fruit and veg, or even just water or nut mylk, to satisfy yourself until you can cook up a proper meal.
With everything that is available on our ever evolving supplement market, how DOES one choose a protein powder? I can tell you that there is some absolute crap out there, so I’ve written this article to help keep you pick the best powder for you on your healing journey.

(Quick heads up: This post contains affiliate links to products I love, meaning I earn a commission if you click through and purchase something. There’s no additional cost to you and it keeps me running this blog! Just click on the name of the protein and you’ll be taken to my favorite option. Thank you for your support. <3)


Some things we DON’T want to see in our protein powder:

  • Artificial sweeteners — common artificial sweeteners used in protein powders are sucralose, splenda, aspartame, equal, NutraSweet, or saccharin and xylitol.
  • Dextrins/maltodextrin
  • Skim milk powders/milk solids — are often used as a cheap bulking agent in less quality protein powders. They are high in lactose, which can cause bloating, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, and loose stools in people sensitive to the sugar.
  • Modified Soy or Corn
  • Vegetable oils and fats — these ingredients are usually added to many fat loss and ‘lean’ protein powders to increase the richness of the powder. Unfortunately, these fats are often derived from hydrogenated sources, which contain trans fats and tend to drive down our Omega 3:6 ratio.
  • Thickeners and gums — for example, xanthan gum, which may cause gut problems in those who are sensitive.
  • Fillers — are often not needed and used as an additive to bulk up the protein in order to save money for the manufacturer. Some fillers include ingredients such as coconut flour or psyllium – again may cause problems for those with gut imbalances.
  • Heavy Metals and pesticides (these won’t be listed, but rather the product should have gone through 3rd party testing to assess the content – The EWG’s Clean Label Project is my favorite place to check in on third party testing of supplements)

Now, let’s weigh the pros and cons between the various protein bases. Because I work with those who have a lot of sensitivities I tend to use less of protein powder blends, rather aiming for as few ingredients as possible. If you do not have food sensitivities.. you may want to choose a more multi-dimensional one. And on that note, best use would incorporate rotation of your protein powders (or not having them every day) to avoid developing a sensitivity. If you are using vegetarian protein powders then rotating will help you to acquire complete protein.


Collagen


Our skin, tendons, bones, ligaments, cartilage, gut, hair, nails and more are all made up of collagen. Adequate intake is necessary to produce our own collagen as well as maintain healthy metabolism. Collagen is made up of three amino acids, hydroxyproline, glycine, and proline; all of which we tend to receive less of through diet. Collagen is the most important and abundant structural protein in your body. Think of collagen as the ‘glue’ that holds your body together. It’s production declines after the age of 40 and can be compromised by chronic illness, resulting in wrinkles, thinning bones, weaker joints, thinning hair, and other consequences to our health and vitality.

Collagen is one of the most studied protein containing supplements out there. It is often promoted for its benefits to skin health; and there really are a plethora of studies that demonstrate the validity of this. They show that Collagen can support skin elasticity, moisture, and reduce cellulite and stretch marks. Human and Animal studies have shown Collagen to be particularly helpful for those with osteoporosis or arthritis[2] [3]. The amino acids contained in collagen are helpful for healing the intestinal cell wall and support liver detox pathways – this study demonstrated that patients with IBD are often deficient in collagen [6}. In particular, glycine can boost metabolism and improves the body’s use of antioxidants (thus preventing signs of aging). In a limited number of trials, Type II Collagen hydrolysate was shown to be protective against hypertension and heart disease, as well as ulcerative lesions [4] [5].

Dr. Will Cole writes this handy synopsis of the Collagen subtypes:

  1. Bovine collagen: Found in cows, this collagen contains Type I and Type III subtypes. It is one of the best in terms of compatibility with our own body due to the fact that the Type I subtype is most commonly found in the human body. Type I makes up tendons, bones, and ligaments and Type III is in bone marrow, cartilage, and connective tissue. Make sure to look for grass-fed to really reap the most nutritional benefits.
  2. Chicken collagen: This is made up of Type II collagen which is in chicken cartilage and bones.
  3. Fish collagen: Contains Type I collagen and is the most bioavailable option due to the smaller particles of collagen peptides.
  4. Eggshell membrane collagen: This is made up of Type I and Type V collagen which work synergistically to improve the health of connective and joint tissues. It is also a great option if you are looking for muscle growth. [1]

Conclusion: Doesn’t provide full spectrum of Amino Acids, but does provide particularly important ones for a body under duress. Most people tolerate it well and it is extremely bioavailable. Those with histamine intolerance may be sensitive to it.

Hydrolyzed Beef Protein

Hydrolyzed protein is “pre-digested” using either enzymes or high temperatures to break it down into small and easier to absorb pieces. This makes it more bioavailable and less likely to trigger food sensitivities.

  • Dairy-free, gluten-free, and lectin-free
  • there are plenty of options that are hormone-free, antibiotic-free, non-GMO from cows that are raised on pasture
  • It contains complete protein
  • Contains Branched-chain amino acids including leucine, isoleucine, and valine; which make the job of converting the amino acid into energy easier
  • Friendly for SIBO, AIP, Keto and Paleo-inspired diets
  • Choose from PurePaleo’s selection, emphasis on unflavoured

Conclusion: That it contains complete protein, is bio-available and highly tolerated make Hydrolyzed Beef Protein an Ideal Choice. May cause issues for those with histamine intolerance.

Whey protein

Whey protein gets a bad rep due to the state of the conventional dairy industry. However, when derived from the milk of pasture raised cows Whey protein does have its benefits. Whey is a by-product of cheesemaking. After milk has been curdled and strained, you’re left with a liquid that contains a bunch of proteins that contain all of our essential amino acids. Post processing typically leaves Whey with very few traces of lactose, but nonetheless this should be considered for those people who are very intolerant. Casein (another protein in the milk) that some people are sensitive to is almost entirely absent in whey as casein is what whey separates from during the curdling process of the cheesemaking.

  • Whey protein can be concentrate (less processed but with less protein percentage and also containing fat, vitamins and minerals), isolate (higher protein percentage and less traces of lactose), or hydrolysate (pre-digested and more easily absorbed).
  • Contains complete amino acid profile and bio-available
  • Whey isolate has been shown to protect against ulcerative lesions [4]
  • Lactoferrin (a content of Whey) has been shown to aid in cancer prevention [7]
  • The biological components of whey demonstrate a range of immune-enhancing properties.
  • Whey has the ability to act as an antioxidant, antihypertensive, antitumor, hypolipidemic, antiviral, antibacterial, and chelating agent. The primary mechanism by which whey is thought to exert its effects is by intracellular conversion of the amino acid cysteine to glutathione,our master antioxidant. A number of clinical trials have successfully been performed using whey in the treatment of cancer, HIV, hepatitis B, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and as an antimicrobial agent [8].
  • In Results of the EWG 2018 Clean Label Project the Whey product Puori received a Top 5 ranking in terms of quality and purity.
  • Try Tara’s Goat’s milk Whey if you tolerate the addition of sunflower oil, Dr. Mercola’s Whey, or Puori, which can be ordered on Amazon

Conclusion: If you know that you tolerate traces of lactose, Whey could be a good option. 

Egg white

Egg white protein is another great source of protein with all amino acids and it has been around even before whey and casein became popular in the 90’s. It’s naturally lactose free so it’s suitable for those avoiding dairy, and if made from purely egg whites, it should technically suite those following an autoimmune protocol, however egg whites can also be allergenic so proceed with caution. It’s highly bioavailable, contains about 24 grams of protein per 30 gram scoop. Look for egg white protein from free range eggs and avoid whole egg protein to avoid any oxidised yolk cholesterol.

Conclusion: This is a great ovo-veggie option for protein powder

Hemp.

This is the least bioavailable and has the least protein density compared to other plant-based options with only 30-50% protein by weight versus 90-100% in other choices. It does contain loads of fiber and omega fat which are both needed for gut and brain health.

  • Doesn’t tend to mix that well
  • lower in lectins than other seeds
  • Cancer preventative [9]
  • Rich in Minerals
  • Supportive of Cardiovascular Health [9]
  • Try Nutiva Hemp Protein

Conclusion: Even though its protein content is minimal it does contain tons of fiber, iron, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids. If you don’t mind the texture, this is a good option for those still wanting to maintain an anti-inflammatory style diet.

Rice.

It is considered a complete protein source because it contains all nine essential amino acids. And while it contains less lysine than whey protein its bioavailability is almost as much as beef.

  • If you go with this option, make sure to choose organic, and try to source from a location other than China in order to lessen arsenic exposure
  • May trigger reaction in those sensitive to lectins and grains
  • Often tolerated by those with SIBO

Nutribiotic Organic Brown Rice Protein

Conclusion: Rice protein would not be my first choice.

Pea

This protein powder comes from yellow split peas. It contains all nine essential amino acids, however some are in low amounts and for that reason is not considered a complete protein. In order to reap the benefits it may need to be paired with a complementary protein like rice. It can help you stay full longer so it can be the perfect addition to your morning smoothie.

Conclusion: As long as you can handle legumes and grains, this is an okay plant-based option.

Sacha inchi.

This seed from Peru is also known as the Inca peanut. It has 9 grams of protein per serving and is considered a complete protein since it contains all essential amino acids.

This is a favorite plant-based protein source for those who want to avoid grains. Although it is not as bioavailable as animal based options it is high in omega fat which supports hormone balance, brain health, skin and more.

Pumpkin seed.

Calling all pumpkin lovers, you can now take your obsession to a whole new level with the addition of pumpkin seed protein powder. What it lacks in flavor it makes up for with its nutritional value. It contains 12 grams of protein per cup and is considered a complete plant protein due to its amino acid content. The only downside is that pumpkin seed is high in lectins.

  • Can increase good cholesterol and supports women’s hormone balance
  • Supports prostate health [10]
  • Supports cardiovascular and liver health[10]
  • Supports good mood and reduces insomnia/anxiety through its high tryptophan content, which is the precursor to serotonin [10]
  • reduces symptoms of the overactive bladder [10]
  • Jarrow Organic Pumpkin Seed Protein

Conclusion: Good plant based option for those who tolerate lectins.

Cricket Flour Protein

Cricket flour protein powder is a nutritional powerhouse. Its protein content compares with that of Whey, and to top it off contains healthy fats, iron, B12 and a bit of fibre. The only downside would be that it isn’t tolerated by those with Histamine Intolerance. Otherwise this is a really great option.

https://static.usrfiles.com/html/870e32_5549f48e5ca88a83fe884e81145b36d5.html​

References:
[1] Dr. Will Cole (2017) Could Protein powder be throwing off your hormones? https://drwillcole.com/protein-powder-throwing-off-hormones/
[2] Alfonso E. Bello & Steffen Oesser (2006) Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders:a review of the literature, Current Medical Research and Opinion, 22:11, 2221-2232, DOI: 10.1185/030079906X148373
[3] Sun Young Choi, Eun Jung Ko, Yong Hee Lee, Byung Gyu Kim, Hyun Jung Shin, Dae Bang Seo, Sang Jun Lee, Beom Joon Kim & Myeung Nam Kim (2014) Effects of collagen tripeptide supplement on skin properties: A prospective, randomized, controlled study, Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 16:3, 132-137, DOI: 10.3109/14764172.2013.854119
[4] Youzuo Zhang, Tomomi Kouguchi, Muneshige Shimizu, Takashi Ohmori, Yoshihisa Takahata, and Fumiki Morimatsu.Journal of Medicinal Food.Apr 2010.ahead of print http://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2009.1246
[5] G.A. Castro, J.E. Carvalho, S.V. Tinti, A. Possenti, and V.C. Sgarbieri.Journal of Medicinal Food.Feb 2010.ahead of print http://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2008.0277
[6] Koutroubakis IE, Petinaki E, Dimoulios P, et al

Serum laminin and collagen IV in inflammatory bowel disease

Journal of Clinical Pathology 2003;56:817-820.
[7] In vitro impact of a whey protein isolate (WPI) and collagen hydrolysates (CHs) on B16F10 melanoma cells proliferation Castro, G.A. et al. Journal of Dermatological Science , Volume 56 , Issue 1 , 51 – 57
[8] Marshall K. (2004) Therapeutic applications of whey protein.

Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun;9(2):136-56.
[9] Mcfarland, Elisha (2017) 12 Amazing Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds. GreenMedInfo.

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/12-amazing-health-benefits-hemp-seeds-6-recipes-0
[10] Ji, Sayer. (2017) Pumpkin Seeds: 11 Evidence Based Health Benefits. GreenMedInfo. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/remarkable-healing-properties-pumpkin-seed

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