This was a very challenging post for me to write, because I have a confession to make: I, Juliet Burgh, loooooove protein powder! I love it so much that I use it in the morning for breakfast, after my workouts and sometimes even for dessert. It’s been a staple in my diet since my weight-lifting career started back when I was 18 years old.
Over the years I have switched to many different kinds of protein, shifting to more natural supplements coming from plants or grass-fed animals, and I truly believed that I was consuming what was good for my health. That is, until my recent rude awakening.
One of my favorite proteins powders was recalled from shelves in Canada for having toxic amounts of some crazy antibiotic. Wait, an antibiotic?!!! What in the world was that doing in my vegan plant protein, anyway? As a nutritionist, I scrutinize labels to make sure I know each ingredient that is going into my body, and the last time I checked I don’t remember seeing any antibiotics listed. So how the hell did this get into my food? Apparently, one of the probiotic enzymes that they were using had been contaminated with this antibiotic and the manufacturer had no idea how it got in there. (It was most likely due to the factory the powder was being made in.)
The recall raised a very important question for me: What else is in my protein powder? It brought me back to my No. 1 eating principle: “Eat real food that's as minimally processed as you can get.”
As I began digging into the research, I realized that there are quite a few issues with protein supplements. You must be very careful as to which ones you choose to put into your body and if you’re unsure I recommend consulting a nutritionist or doing a little online research of your own. The key is don’t just trust the label and the claims they are making. “No artificial ingredients," "all natural," "no sugar added," "low carb"—all of these labels could be a bunch of bullshit. When choosing a protein supplement focus on where the protein is coming from and check to make sure it has no artificial sweeteners or added ingredients coming from chemicals, soy or corn. I always like to remind myself and others that we are what we eat, and if we are putting processed garbage in our bodies, eventually we will feel the effects.
So which protein supplements are deemed safe right now?
• Grass-fed whey protein made in the U.S. or Europe. (Whey protein coming from China and other countries has been found to contain high amounts of mercury and lead.)
• Hemp protein powder.
• Raw and vegan plant-based protein powders. (Note: Always research the brand—you don’t want to end up in the dark if you’re protein is recalled.)
• Organic egg-white protein.
In the end, though, the best protein is protein coming from real food—even broccoli and spinach have protein in them! Use protein powder as a supplement, only if you must.
This article originally appeared on the Unite Fitness Blog.
Juliet Burgh is the nutrition director at Unite Fitness, which has online programs and local studios offering its trademark group cross-training and personal- and nutrition-coaching. Studios are located in Center City, Philadelphia, Mt. Laurel and Medford, New Jersey. Now franchising.