There are a lot of health routines that are so common we don’t even think about them. We all know the importance of a healthy diet and getting enough protein. And protein shakes have become such a standard part of our culture none of us think to question whether or not they are actually healthy.
People make them at home, smoothie stores offer them and fancier gyms with shake bars sell them. They are just part of the trappings of a healthy lifestyle. But are they good for you? Unfortunately, it turns out that isn’t the easiest question to answer.
“Most protein shakes are filled with added ingredients that cause inflammation,” said Holistic Health Coach Virginia Gruhler. “Ingredients like syrups, dyes, artificial flavors and sugars are linked to a variety of symptoms like hyperactivity, irritability, headaches, weight gain, and allergies. It’s best to eat high quality protein from a whole food source, like wild caught salmon or grass-fed beef.”
Like so many other foods, it seems the only way to know a protein shake is healthy is to make it yourself. The protein can come from plants, eggs or milk. They may also include added vitamins and minerals. But, they can have high levels of sugar, thickeners and artificial flavors that you don’t want. Moreover, the amount of protein varies wildly. Some protein powders have so many things added to them that they can turn one glass of milk into a 1,200 calorie drink!
Even when you make them yourself, you can’t be sure you’re having something healthy. A study from the Clean Label Project that looked at toxins in protein powders also had startling results. They examined 134 powdered for 130 types of toxins and found BPA, pesticides, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and chemicals linked to cancer. One powdered had 25 times the permitted amount of BPA.
There are chemical-free protein powders available. And, in some cases, protein shakes are inarguably beneficial. If you are sick and have a problem with appetite, they can help you meet your nutritional needs. If you need to heal after surgery, the protein can give you a boost. If you are a bodybuilder or an extreme workout enthusiast who burns many calories and is looking to add muscle, they are useful. And, if you have an injury that requires extra protein to heal, they are excellent. But, you should talk to your doctor about picking the medically right one for you. The best choice might be to make a shake with nut butter and yogurt, not a protein powder.
Trying to use them to lose weight usually backfires as they are higher in calories than you realize. Also, using them to replace meals means you miss out on a lot of nutrients. Plus, many people try to replace meals but then end up eating food anyway because liquids aren’t as satisfying. Eating protein-rich foods is a great way to help weight loss. Protein gives you energy and helps you stay full. But protein shakes don’t give you the same boost and may not contain enough protein.
In the end, the answer is, for most of us, protein shakes either aren’t necessary or can be unhealthy. Unless you discuss it with your doctor and they suggest adding shakes to your routine, it’s probably best to stick to whole foods. When you get protein from food, you also get vitamins and minerals, and you know you aren’t getting a ton of additives.