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What to look for when purchasing your weight loss protein powders

February 19, 2020

Why supplement your diet with Protein Powder

Protein shakes are designed to be heavy on protein, but that means they often fail at providing significant amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

I like the fact that a well designed therapeutic protein powder will be a healthy addition to my daily nutritional routine. So I look for products that are quick to make, taste delicious if you are just adding filtered water or I love to use coconut water and that they are vegan friendly and of course sugar free.

In our busy lifestyles we can become protein deficient especially if we are grabbing too many take away meals, frozen meals or living on processed carbohydrates. Signs of protein deficiency include:-

  • Fatty liver;
  • Hair, Skin and Nail problems;
  • Oedema (swollen legs, ankles, feet);
  • Loss of muscle mass;
  • Risk of bone fractures;
  • Increased severity of infections (colds/flu);
  • Increased appetite;
  • Stunted growth in children.

Protein supplements are a quick alternative for breakfast, a snack or lunch. I prefer to eat a healthy whole foods selection as my main meal at night. Protein powders can balance hormones, assist in weight loss, support detoxification and digestion, boost your immune system, and even support pregnancy.

Weight loss shakes and protein shakes can be fantastic supplements to a healthy diet. Typically, weight loss shakes are good for those on the run who are doing light to moderate exercise. This is because weight loss shakes are usually low in kilojoules/calories, which means they can curb those hunger pangs when you feel like reaching for a treat.

There is a lot to consider especially if you have allergies and are looking for gluten free, dairy free, soy free, sugar free products. You also need to keep in mind what they are using as fillers, gluten, soy, skim milk powder/milk solids, vegetable oils/fats, thickeners/gums as these can contribute to allergies, bloating or digestive upsets.

Alternatively, if you’re incorporating moderate to high levels of exercise into your diet, then protein shakes can offer some additional benefits that will help with recovery and fitness focused goals like strength or hypertrophy (muscle growth). Both weight loss and protein shakes can support fat loss and boost nutrient intake.

Unfortunately though, they often have high levels of sugar that you wouldn’t expect to find lurking behind such fancy packaging -

I love to use products that have been designed for Naturopaths to use and recommend to their clients - mind you we still need to read the ingredients to as not all products are of a high therapeutic quality. I certainly do not recommend the cheaper ones from supermarkets, chemists or multi-level marketing.

1. Low Fat = High in Sugar

Many commercial brand weight loss and protein shakes are marketed as low in fat, which usually means they are high in sugar. Why? Because fat has flavour, so when you take out the flavour it needs to be replaced so the product doesn’t taste like sand! The easiest way to add flavour is to crank up the sugar, so even though the product enters your body low in fat, once the sugar is digested, it becomes fat.

2. Added Sugar

Sugar is added to a lot of commercially bought protein powders to make them taste great and so that people will continue to purchase them. Some of the types of sugars or sweeteners that are added are -

  • Natural sugars are fructose, glucose and lactose. Molasses, golden syrup or honey are natural and are sometimes added along with chemically created sugars such as, dextrose, glucose polymers, sucrose, corn syrup and maltodextrin. If you see any of these at or near the top of your ingredients list, your protein powder is probably loaded with sugar.
  • If you are looking for a sweet-tasting protein drink without the sugar, many companies use artificial sweeteners, sugar substitutes or sugar alcohols. These sweeteners can hit the sweet parts of your taste buds like sugar, but they do not contain as many calories. They often have names that are hard to pronounce such as sucralose, xylitol, sorbitol, acesulfame-k and aspartame.
  • It is also not fully known how these sweeteners interact or function in the body over the long term, but they do play a part in disrupting your gut microbiome and do not support healthy liver function which is essential when you are wanting to lose and keep weight off so it is best to avoid these additives.
  • Stevia is a native herb from Brazil and Paraguay. The leaves are used to sweeten products as stevia contains zero kilojoules/calories. Stevia is a lot sweeter than sugar (be careful if adding drops to your tea or coffee) and the taste lasts longer than that of normal sugar.

3. Whey Powder

What is whey powder? Whey powder is made from dairy. Milk is made of two proteins, casein and whey. Whey protein can be separated from the casein in milk or formed as a by-product of cheese making. It is also the watery substance on top of your yoghurt. Whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids. It is also low in lactose content but people can still be sensitive to whey. There are three types of whey protein that are used in weight loss and protein supplements:-

  • Whey protein concentrate - WPC contains low levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates. The percentage of protein in WPC depends on how concentrated it is. Lower end concentrates tend to have 30 percent protein and higher end up to 90 percent.
  • Whey protein isolate - WPIs are further processed to remove all the fat and lactose. WPI is usually at least 90 percent protein.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate - WPH is considered to be the "predigested" form of whey protein as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis - a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. WPH doesn't require as much digestion as the other two forms of whey protein.

Also, WPH is commonly used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas because of it's improved digestibility and reduced allergen potential.

4. Vegan Protein

  • Rice protein, yellow-pea protein or hemp protein are the main ones on the market. Although you can purchase pumpkin seed, chia protein, sprouted seeds/grains or soy protein.
  • These can be a bit heavier on your digestive system as most are legume based.
  • With vegan powders make sure they have added B12 as this is an essential vitamin that is required by your body for your energy levels, mood and memory, heart, hair, skin and digestion also essential for the production of DNA and red blood cells and being Vegan can lead to this deficiency.

5. Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs, Amino Acids

These vitamins and minerals are the main ones added to weight loss powders as they have many added benefits in assisting with weight loss.

  • Glutamine this is an amino acid that plays a crucial role weight loss. Glutamine helps your body build proteins. When it does this, you are able to maintain more muscle mass. It is possible that having a lack of glutamine when you are trying to lose weight, can prevent you from losing weight. Glutamine is able to contribute to your energy supply while at the same time being able to bypass the body’s insulin-induced fat storage. This means that glutamine isn’t going to add to your fat storage, but your body can still use it for energy.
  • Carnitine is an amino acid that gets synthesized from lysine and methionine. This amino acid transfers fats in your body to cells so that they can be converted into energy. During this process, carnitine can also suppress some of your appetite. So, while your body is starting to burn fat, you aren’t getting any hungrier. If your body is lacking carnitine, it will start storing fat instead of burning it. This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. Taking this sort of supplement is a must in your weight loss journey.
  • Taurine is known to help in weight loss. It enhances metabolic activity on the cellular level and enables an individual to burn more fat. It can also prevent loss of muscle mass during bouts of quick weight loss.
  • B Vitamins - Taken together, B vitamins are involved in critical processes that support energy production and a healthy metabolism. Metabolism is rather complex, but is basically the physiology in which the body transforms calories from food into usable energy. The energy is used to carry out vital processes. These include moving the body, breathing in oxygen, circulating oxygenated blood, and growing and repairing cells each second.
  • Vitamin D - A body that is low in vitamin D will start to convert sugar to fat instead of energy right away so that it can be stored and used as energy later on. Having enough vitamin D in your system also helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium plays a role in weight loss as well.
  • Vitamin C helps your body to metabolise fat. Vitamin C is also essential for adrenals so it helps to reduce stress. Stress can cause you to put on weight.
  • Magnesium is an important energy nutrient that functions in your body to activate enzymes involved in the digestion, absorption, and use of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Without energy nutrients, you can develop unnecessary food cravings, low blood sugar, anxiety, and a tendency to overeat making weight loss virtually impossible. Magnesium also helps insulin guide glucose into cells for energy. When there is not enough Magnesium available for that process, glucose and insulin levels elevate, glucose is stored as fat, and the extra insulin puts you at risk for diabetes.
  • Chromium plays an essential role in glucose metabolism. It is also an important part of the balance which prevents insulin resistance. Chromium helps to prevent sugar cravings which can happen when people are deficient in chromium.
  • Selenium is essential for thyroid health which can support weight loss especially if you have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid.)
  • Zinc is essential in assisting digestion and being zinc deficient affects your appetite control and even disrupts your sense of taste and smell. This could lead to difficulties losing weight as you crave richer, saltier, or sweeter foods.
  • Macha Green Tea contains an antioxidant, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), that has been known to boost your metabolism and stop the growth of fat cells.
  • Guarana is extremely high in caffeine (twice as much as coffee) and is added to boost energy and metabolism - you will also find this in energy drinks.

What's with those Keto Shakes?

There are a few different types powders to choose from as Keto is still trendy for weight loss. The base of these powders can be whey based, egg white based (not good for people with allergies or sensitivities to these ingredients) although they are low carbohydrate and have a higher level of fats than collagen based powders - these are high in protein and low/zero carbohydrates.

Collagen supplements do not mean you sacrifice on the physical side effects of dairy based powders as they provide the same amino acid boosts as dairy-based protein powders. Collagen helps build strong, flexible nails while simultaneously strengthening joints and connective tissues. Not bad for an “alternative” to dairy proteins. Yes you can add collagen to your own home made weight loss shakes (see below.)

All those different flavours?

Basically these flavours are chemicals or artificial flavours added to what could have been an okay product. Do we really need salted caramel flavour, chocolate flavour, latte flavour, banana flavour, strawberry or other berry flavours, green mix (with no greens in there, just colouring) or whatever they can come up with next? No we don't as its so easy to start from scratch and create our own!

Homemade Weight loss Shakes/Smoothies

As a Naturopath who loves the nutrition side of our profession (actually all aspects really!) and whole foods will always have the benefit over a supplement such as some of the protein powders that make up your morning shake/smoothie. Whole foods contain naturally occurring fibre, antioxidants, phytochemicals and other protective substances that can’t be reproduced in a factory.

I love getting creative with my breakfast shakes as there's nothing better than making your own smoothie by adding to your Vitamix, blender, Nutri Bullet etc

  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit and/or green vegetables,
  • 1/2 cup of nuts or nut butter (if you are able to tolerate nuts)
  • 3/4 cup filtred water or coconut water,
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk or your choice of dairy alternative (you can use A2 milk if you can tolerate it or raw milk),
  • add a scoop of protein powder or collagen powder (or both if you wish)
  • blend on high for 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into your glass and enjoy - yummo!
Home made smoothies
Repair, Re-balance, Restore

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