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One of the most common misconceptions about protein powder is that it’s exclusively reserved for athletes, fitness influencers and lifting diehards alike.  

However, sports dietitian and Momentous Sports Engineer Jenna Stangland, MS, RDN, suggests that practically anyone can benefit from a good protein powder as it can help individuals supplement their daily nutrition intake and achieve their protein needs. This includes everything from stabilizing your blood sugar levels, recovering from injuries and achieving weight loss. 

While there are many protein powders on the market to choose from, Stangland notes that there are important factors to keep in mind before you add a protein powder to your shopping cart. 

Ahead, Stangland breaks down all the good and bad ingredients to look out for in order to ensure your protein powder is completely clean. 

Make sure the protein is nutritionally dense
Whether it’s whey, pea, brown rice, bone broth, egg, hemp, whey concentrate or soy protein, read product labels carefully to ensure the protein is listed as the first primary ingredient with minimal other ingredients following that.

Next, she notes that a good protein powder provides both essential and nonessential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids like leucine that you need for recovery and tissue repair. The Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition, published by the National Research Council (US), suggests that amino acids are organic compounds that are vital to health. “You want to have a minimum of 2.2 grams of leucine, 1.1 grams isoleucine and 1.1 grams valine for optimal ratios of those branched-chain amino acids,” she explains.

Pick a product that contains digestive enzymes
Keep an eye out for digestive enzymes as Stangland says they help the body metabolize the protein into amino acids more efficiently. The enzyme also aids in protein digestion, so it helps reduce or prevent symptoms such as bloating or stomach cramps. She also suggests this ingredient can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with intolerances. 

Be cautious of sweeteners and thickeners
According to Stangland, you should be wary of certain protein powder ingredients like whey protein concentrate. “A whey protein concentrate means that the protein is not pure whey, so it still has sugars and fats from the milk it was derived from,” she explains. Similarly, be on the lookout for thickeners and artificial sweeteners, as she suggests that xanthan gum (which is a derivative of corn), may trigger side effects in some individuals. Artificial sweeteners (including sucralose, Splenda, aspartame or sugar alcohols like xylitol) should also be avoided. Instead, try to find protein powders that utilize cane sugar or stevia ingredients instead. 

Be on the lookout for filler ingredients
“Fillers are unnecessary, so look for any additional flours listed or any fiber fillers, [which] can trigger bloating, gas or other symptoms in some people,” she adds. “These include rice flour, coconut flour or psyllium.” Plus, those who suffer from inflammation and gastrointestinal distress should also avoid ingredients such as gluten, flours, and dextrin.

Look for these specific labels
“When you see the NSF-Certified for Sport or Informed-Choice label on a product, that means there was third party testing to verify the ingredients in the jar are indeed the ingredients in the product without contaminants or illegal ingredients,” she explains. “Over 60 percent of supplements cnotain something more than what the label shows, and you don’t want to be at risk of consuming something not good for your body. ” 

Approach organic labels with caution
Although certified-organic seals may promise a cleaner product, Stangland explains there is no guarantee that the product is completely pure or nontoxic. “USDA Organic labels mean that at least 95 percent of the product ingredients came from soil, but that label doesn’t always mean that is the best option,” she explains. She mentions that organic protein powders can contain up to two times the number of heavy metals (like lead and arsenic) in them compared to non-organic protein powders.

Use reputable resources to check your protein powder quality
Thankfully, there are resources available that can help you check your protein powder quality such as the Clean Label Project, which has reviewed up to 134 protein powders for quality. Protein powders must also be screened by the Clean Label Project for harmful toxins as well. However, no matter what kind of protein powder you choose, Stangland always advises consulting the advice of a registered dietitian or a physician to see if the product is actually suitable for your nutritional needs. 

xx, The FabFitFun Team