You may or may not know that I used to work in advertising on Fortune 500 consumer brands. Yes, the stuff you find in your bathroom, closet and kitchen cabinets. I’m planning to write an in-depth article about how advertisers make people buy things they never wanted – just because the story is that good and it touches our deepest fears and aspirations.

To start, here is a quick blog post which I hope will help you navigate the waters of the holy grail (of many) food makers and advertisers: PROTEIN POWDERS.

About 60-70% of people who start working with me regularly drink some kind of a protein powder. When I ask them to put it away for just a few days, I hear a moment of silence, hesitation and then the inevitable question comes up: “Yes, but where would I now get my proteins and nutrients from?”

This is what I mean by brilliance and danger of marketing.

How did we get proteins and nutrients intro our bodies before protein powders were invented?

If you have been following me for a while you know that I promote a clean, unadulterated way of eating as the foundation of healing and rebalancing your hormones.

So, when I see things that you are putting in your body that are synthetic, manipulative and outright unhealthy, I have a civic sense of obligation to say something. And say plenty I will!

Here is why.

What is wrong with protein powders?

#1 – Protein powders are highly processed

The process of the dehydration of protein to make protein powder leaves it in a highly denatured form. Proteins are heated to the point that our bodies do not recognize it as real food.
“Our body was designed to only eat real food” – Dr Mark Hyman
“Anything ‘partly’ and ‘isolate’ is not real food” – Dr Mercola.

Take coca and cocaine. Cocaine is made from coca, right? Coca leaves have been chewed for generations by the natives of the high Andes for a boost of clean energy. Cocaine, on the other hand, is an isolate of coca leaves, and you probably know (hopefully not first hand) what prolonged usage of cocaine does to your body. Same product, right? But see how differently your body would respond to it? This is the same thing with rice in its real, whole-food form versus “rice protein powder.”

What about protein powders that carry the claim of “low temperature”? Although less damaging, low heat still alters the protein on a molecular level, rendering the food as unrecognizable by our bodies.

Furthermore, many manufacturers add synthetic and toxic ingredients to their products. It’s not uncommon to find aspartame, saccharin, fructose and artificial colors.

One other interesting thing is: processed protein powders may also contain large amounts of MSG as a natural result (or by-product) of separating protein from its food source during manufacturing. You won’t find it in the ingredients list as it’s a naturally occurring by-product and the FDA does not require it to be listed. That is shameful but the current reality of product labeling in the United States.

What about pea protein – is the frequent question many would ask. The pea protein folks feel somewhat above everyone else as they have been promised the supremacy of their products. The answer is in the above paragraphs and nothing will make it better. You will know when you give it up for a few days, replace it with real food and see how much better you feel.

What about brand A, B or C? Is another question. After all, your brand has promised you to be superior to all other brands because … [insert reasons of supremacy here]. It’s their job to convince you to eat it. The same way a pharmaceutical company will say that Lipitor is the only way to bring down cholesterol levels or Synthroid is the only way to manage a thyroid condition.

 

#2 – Eating concentrated protein without fats is useless if not harmful

Have you seen any protein occurring in nature without fat? Like meat, coconut, hemp seeds – it’s all protein + fat. There is a good reason for it. We need fat to metabolize Vitamins A, E, D and K. If there is no fat, these vitamins just go right through our body. Protein powders contain no fat which means these vitamins never get absorbed.

Also, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we need fat for calcium to be absorbed. So the question is, what happens with all the calcium promised in the protein powder when the powder is mixed with water and there is no fat to metabolize it? And the answer is simple; it gets deposited in your bones but not in the way you want it; I’m talking about calcified deposits in the joints that hurt.

My mom was put on a cheap version of calcium supplements without vitamin B, K2, D and fats – after 3 weeks she developed severe joint pain.

You might be now wondering: “Why not just add fat to my smoothie?” That makes total sense except that the protein has been so denatured that adding fat at this point won’t guarantee the absorption.

#3 – Digestive Upset

Having worked with so many women (about 70% of them drinking protein powders regularly before working with me), weak digestion is an ongoing issue. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas and bloating. When she stops adding synthetic food like the protein shakes and powders, one of the immediate benefits are: calmer digestion and stable sugar levels. The reasons of the how and why this happens can be many:

  • the food is highly processed and your body is struggling to break it down
  • it may be due to whey and/or casein content which you could have an allergy or food intolerance to
  • it may contain soy, eggs or corn which many people struggle with
  • it may be due to the various sweeteners used such as maltodextrin, or alcohol sugars such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol which can cause digestive issues for some. 

If you have not read it, I wrote a whole article about how digestion impacts your hormones.

 

#4 – Protein powders may contain heavy metals

According to this Consumer Lab report, 28% of leading protein powders were found to have mercury, lead and cadmium in them. And this is the very stuff we are trying to get out of your body to restore your hormonal balance and not trigger autoimmunity (like in the case of Hashimoto’s).

 

#5 – Protein powders can damage organs and cause death (in bodybuilders)

You may not be a body builder and eating as much protein as they do but my point is: synthetic proteins, especially when consumed in excess can do some serious damage in the long run.
Excerpt from the “No Whey, Man” article:
“I later learned that elevated levels of protein can also cause kidney damage, liver problems, kidney stones, excess fat gain, contribute to the damaging of the lining of artery walls, lead to plaque build up in arteries, result in lethargy, diminish bone density, and cause a host of other health problems.”

Marketing brilliance and dangers you need to be aware of

The former marketing hit man in me seeks redemption, so here we go:

  • “Doctor-recommended” – I know that many respected doctors push protein powders and some have their own brands. Here is the reality: it’s a business. They need solid sources of revenue to sustain their businesses and people they hire. And, they want to offer us free content on their website. But, something needs to pay for it, right? Well, supplements and protein powders are the easiest sell, a source of repeated revenues and they are pretty harmless if combined with the message of “eat real food, too.”
  • “Low heat used” – as seen above, it makes no difference, it’s still processed.
  • “Fortified” – another word for “more synthetic and chemically-enhanced vitamins added.”
  • “Board-certified” – don’t fall for this. The brands I used to work on would create their own “institutes,” “associations” and “boards” and certify their own product. It’s a joke.
  • Celebrity-endorsed – please, please, please do not fall for this. It does NOT matter. Let me assure you that the celebs don’t drink this stuff. Most of them have amazing real-food chefs whipping out the freshest meals possible.
  • “As seen on Dr. Oz” – many brands use the Dr Oz brand to sell their products – most of them are fraudulent claims and you should not be navigating your health journey by listening to marketing claims of people who are profiting from it.

Why I’m so against protein powders and shakes?

Having done this work for a number of years, I see EVERY person I work with starting to feel wonderful when they drop any synthetic food and switch over to real food. I would encourage you to do the same. Just for a few days and see how your body responds.

It takes a little bit of an adjustment to drop protein powders. But, just try it. There is real protein all around you. See the collection of my breakfast recipes to get inspired with bringing real food to your life and rebalance your hormones.

To learn how to eat to rebalance your hormones, join the free workshop “How to Use Food to Rebalance Hormones.” 

Thyroid Diet Starter Kit

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Jayne says:

    Hi,
    I like the idea of using real foods too. I agree that protein powders can be a gimmick and a way to make money for the ‘expert’.
    However, I did notice that the Consumer Report didn’t seem to test any vegan protein powders – just dairy based ones. I wouldn’t dream of using a dairy based protein powder – even whey powder, no matter how ‘good’ it’s supposed to be for me 😉 It would be interesting to see how the vegan based protein powders fared. Thing is, I’ve read there’s metals in many of the fruits and veg we eat 🙁

  • Tawnya says:

    Would you say the same for collagen powders?

  • Lynne says:

    Yes, I’m wondering about collagen protein, such as Vital Proteins.

  • Bravo Magdalena for giving us the real facts behind the “story”. I do admire you for helping people who have the chance to read your articles in the hopes of understanding food facts. I’ve become your fan and can’t thank you enough for showing me the path to true health.

  • Shelly Redell says:

    Oh please weigh in on the collagen powder, I drink this in my coffee daily!
    Thanks for the info
    Shelly

  • ou812 says:

    Oh my gawd, I just finished my morning protein shake!! I have it everyday after my workout. After reading this, I want to go throw up!!!! I’m quitting it starting NOW. I HAVE noticed that my digestion is horrible, and didnt know why… I quit the shakes this weekend and felt better. started back up monday and things are slowing down again. Now I need to figure out what real food to eat. Thanks for including a link to the breakfast foods, that will help. Okay.. off to do some deep breathing to calm myself down.

  • Shelia says:

    Please weigh in on collagen. I’m using a liquid collagen in my morning green drink!

  • Susan says:

    Yes! Please help us understand collagen and beef broth protein powders. Do these have the same issues?

  • Nina says:

    I agree with your view on protein powders. This is why I’ve recently started putting a serving of organic hemp protein powder into my mostly veggie smoothie, thinking – this is just ground hemp seeds, right? It states that it’s “purely mechanical cold-milling process resulting in a fine powder that blends well… it is a whole food”

    Magdalena, would you say that anything ground up is processed or it is the “-isolate” process that is the bigger problem?

    • Julie McGinnis says:

      Hi Nina,
      Just ground up hemp is fine that is not processed. There are other seed protein sources that are processed and then ground that are hard to digest, like pea.

  • Terry says:

    I also would love to know about gelatin. Could you please comment.

  • Monique says:

    Could you share how you feel about collagen protein powder?

    • Angela Sidlo says:

      Collagen protein powder is processed totally different than other protein powders. It is actually just dehydrated. Magdalena recommends these brands Bulletproof, Vital Proteins and Great Lakes.

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