Protein Powder: Yay or Nay?

Protein Powder: Yay or Nay? - An Apple a Day

As a holistic health coach, I am sure you will all guess that I am not a huge advocate for protein powders. It comes with the territory I guess. But many of my clients ask me why? 

  • Most people (even athletes) can get the protein they need by eating real protein rich foods. This argument is supported by both Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, a dietician and sports nutritionist who has worked with NFL, NBA, and NHL athletes and trained Ironman competitors, as well as Carole Conn, PhD, RD, CSFD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of New Mexico in the article published here. Protein powders aren’t essential to a healthy life, however real food is. 
  • FACT: There is not one single food that exists in nature as 100% protein: A piece of steak is approximately 42%-48% protein, a piece of chicken breast is approximately 22%-28% protein… Why? Because to break down protein and assimilate it effectively, we require a whole range of vitamins, minerals and their naturally occurring chemical reactions within the human body, that simply don’t exist in a tub of protein powder, but hey… who am I to judge? 🙂 

All that said, just because I don’t promote the use of protein powders, doesn’t mean you have to write them off completely. Like all processed food we choose to ingest, some options are better than others and as such, there exists a few beacons of hope amongst a sea of some well, pretty terrible options. If you simply can’t bare the thought of ditching your shake habit, take my guide to purchasing protein powder and apply it to your next purchase.

9 Tips For Purchasing Protein Powder

  1. Organic 
    When buying protein powder ensure the product is organic and free from any added chemicals or hormones. Organic is a great marketing tool for suppliers and if they could label a product organic, they would. If its not organic, then what’s in it?
  2. Soy Free
    Choose a protein powder free from any soy products. For more information on soy click here.
  3. GMO-Free
    Choose protein powder free from any GMO’s. This includes Soy, Corn, High Fructose Corn Syrup and wheat additives.  
  4. Free From Artificial Sweeteners 
    Aspartame, saccharin and artificial colours are often found lurking on the ingredients labels of protein powders. These are all considered toxic to our health. You can read more on the effects of sweeteners used in protein powders here
  5. Free From Toxic Heavy Metals
    A Consumer Report published in July 2010 found that 3 of the 15 protein powders tested in the US contained high levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury!! Although this test was conducted in the US, this is something to be aware of. You can find this report here
  6. Ensure it is Processed Using 100% Acid Free Methods
    Because whey is produced from milk, many conventional extraction practices include the use of chemicals and synthetics to extract the whey protein from fats. This Acid or Ion Exchange process has been known to denature the amino acid profiles and has also been know to leave toxic metals in the mix. Be sure to check with the supplier of other Pea, Rice and Hemp protein powders to ensure their methods of extraction are also chemical free. For those of you going down the path of whey protein powders… 
  7. Ensure it is Grass-Fed
    Whey protein is produced from dairy and as such the health of the cow needs to be considered. Just like meat, grass-fed cows produce nutritionally superior milk than grain fed. Whey protein produced from grass-fed cows is naturally rich in healthy fats, lipolic acid and CLA. 
  8. Ensure it is Cold Processed
    When purchasing whey protein, look for cold processed. Unfortunately, most whey is heat processed which destroys the fragile molecule structure and damages nutrient value. Cold Processed whey protects the nutrients in their natural state. According to Dr. Mercola heat processing makes the whey protein more acidic and nutritionally deficient.
  9. Ensure it Comes from Raw Dairy (for those outside of Australia and NZ).
    Most commercial whey products are derived from pasteurised dairy. According to a number of reports, the pasteurisation of dairy makes the whey protein more acidic and nutritionally deficient. Pasteurisation occurs at high temperatures and as such has also been known to damage the micronutrients and amino acids of the protein. PLEASE NOTE: It is illegal to buy raw dairy here in Australia and New Zealand for human consumption. 

If all this sounds confusing, turn over your tub of protein powder and read the ingredients. If there are too many numbers or ingredients you can’t pronounce, my advice is to ditch it. If you don’t recognise it, your body won’t either. 


For those of you who simply prefer to stay away from dairy (like myself), there are a number of alternatives out there. Again, I recommend you just JERF (Just Eat Real Food), but if I still can’t sway you (give me time :)), then these are some great alternatives:

  • Bee Pollen – known for its higher protein, iron, and vitamin content over any other food (as well as most commercially-developed muscle-building products) has been known to enhance muscle mass and definition. 
  • Hemp Protein – In my opinion this is one of the best forms of ‘powdered’ protein available. Hemp protein and/or hemp seeds has a very impressive nutritional profile and is easily absorbed by the body. For those of living outside of Australia and NZ, this is a great option to consider. (Hemp products are considered illegal for human consumption here in Australia and NZ, :(). 
  • Brown Rice Protein – It isn’t a complete protein however, it is a better option for those wanting to avoid dairy, gluten and soy than a lot of the other products out there. You can “complete” this protein by purchasing a Brown Rice and Pea Protein combined (see below). 
  • Pea Protein – Pea Protein isn’t a complete protein so again, it’s not the best real food replacement however it is very popular amongst those wanting to avoid gluten, dairy and soy. You can “complete” this protein by purchasing a Brown Rice and Pea Protein combined (see above). 

The checklist “9 Things to Consider Before you Buy Protein Powder” list will still apply to all of the above protein powders, so make sure your chosen vegan protein fits the build (pardon the pun). 


  1. Tina

    Hi Alyse, I have been consuming the Raw Protein powder by Garden of Life only when I think I am not consuming enough vegetable protein. I never wanted to try the Whey just because I knew it was packed with cholesterol, dairy etc. Will it be ok to ask your opinion on the one I take? Thank you!

  2. Alyse

    Hi Tina, I just had a look at this and it looks OK. I would try switching it up with some bee pollen and maca powder for a wider variety of protein sources. If you are vegetarian make sure you are consuming legumes with brown rice and other unprocessed grains to try and get the full amino acid profile.

  3. Tina

    Oh… wow! Thank you so much! Jasmine Brown rice is just what I am having today to accompany my bowl of salad. I will post a picture later today from work. I have this weird mix of vegies and fruit. About the pollen and maca powder I am going to alternate it more often. Have a wonderful day! 🙂

  4. A Better Whey

    I too started using a list of requirements to determine which whey protein was the best for me. When I was not satisfied with the products the mass production companies were offering, I decided to take matters into my own hands. After a lot or research, study, and searching I found A Better Whey. A Better Whey is 100% all natural grass fed whey protein. Family and close friends started using it. Now, those that are using A Better Whey are children, body builders, those seeking healthy weight loss and of course those that just want a healthy diet.

  5. Alyse

    Thanks for your comments. I am glad you have found a product that works for you 🙂

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.