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This article is written by Julie Hambleton, nutrition and fitness expert and co-founder of The Taste Archives

There are several benefits to protein powders that are helping everyone from the elite athlete to the elderly and everyone in between live healthier lives. As with everything, however, not all types of protein powders are made equal and while there are some incredible products out there, there are just as many that are best left on the shelf.

This is how you can separate the good from the junk and choose a protein powder that will get you your best results while also suiting your dietary needs. (1, 2)

The Benefits of Protein Powder

Though there are clearly millions of people who are pro-protein, you will often hear arguments against it, with those people stating that they would rather fill their protein requirements with old-fashioned food sources such as meats, fish, dairy products, and vegetarian sources such as beans and legumes. In an ideal world, this would be the case.

However, the reality is that we’re often up early, working late, and out of the house for hours on end running around from work and school and other activities that make always having home-cooked meals nothing more than a nice thought.  

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Protein powders are the unsung heroes of the early morning commute, mid-afternoon snack, and post-gym recharge. On top of the time-saving and portable nutrition they provide, they can actually be very good for you and support optimum health:

  • Supports weight loss: Protein powders are naturally low-carbohydrate, make excellent craving-killing snacks, and add a hit of protein to your already nutritious breakfast smoothie, yogurt bowl, or morning porridge to help keep you full until lunch instead of reaching for the snack drawer. (3)
  • Supports recovery: Regardless of whether you are an elite athlete or not, when you exercise, you need to recover. Protein helps repair the muscle tissue that you broke down during your workout, allowing you to put on lean mass, lose fat mass, and recover faster so you can continue to get in quality workouts the rest of the week. (3)
  • Support your hormones: Hormones, which are responsible for essentially every function in your body from digestion to creating a baby, are made up of proteins. A diet high in protein will help with the production and maintenance of your body’s hormones that regulate mood, energy levels, libido and more. (3)
  • Support hair, skin, and nail health: These are largely made up of the protein called collagen. When your protein consumption is low, the result is brittle nails, limp, breakable hair, and dull, sagging skin. (3)

Though all of this sounds incredible, before you close this article and race out to your nearest supplement or health food store, buyer beware: Not every protein powder out there is as good for you as they claim to be. Thankfully, deciphering between the good and the garbage is not as complicated as you may think.

How to Pick the Best Protein Powder

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of protein powder brands out there, all which use confusing lingo and flashy marketing to try and get you to purchase their product. Though that cookies-and-creme-chocolate-chip-cookie-dough muscle mania protein may sound like a dream come true, chances are it’s full of sugar and other questionable ingredients that will take you further from your weight loss goals, not closer. So which do you buy?

The protein powder market is definitively split between two products: Vegan and Non-Vegan.

Whey Protein Powder

The first to show up in every bodybuilder’s shaker bottle, most non-vegan protein powders are dairy based, with the most commonly found products being made of whey protein. Whey is the leftover liquid after milk has been curdled and strained to make cheese. That liquid is then dried into whey powder. (4) There are three types of whey protein:

  • Whey concentrate: This powder can be anywhere from 30% to 85% whey protein, along with some amounts of fat, lactose (milk sugar), and other protein types. (4)
  • Whey isolate: This powder takes the processing one step further to make a protein powder that is around 90% whey protein, very little fat and lactose, and no other protein substrates. (4)
  • Hydrolyzed whey: The most expensive form of whey protein, this powder has been taken yet another step further from whey isolate: It uses enzymes to break the proteins down further and essentially do some of the work for your digestive system, so that the protein can be absorbed quicker by the body. In reality, this doesn’t have any benefit to faster muscle growth. (4)

Tips for Buying The Best Whey Protein Powder

If you are purchasing whey protein powder, here are a few things you should look for:

  • New Zealand or European Whey: These are organic and made from grass-fed cows, making them both high quality and free from antibiotics and hormones.
  • Whey Isolate: If you are sensitive to lactose, then isolate is your best bet because it contains less than 1% lactose. Aim to stay away from whey concentrate if you are particularly sensitive to lactose.
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Things to avoid:

  • Blends with casein: Casein protein, one of the proteins in milk, is much harder to digest than whey, and is linked to allergies and respiratory problems. (5)
  • Sugar content: Many whey protein powders are full of sugar. Look for those that have little to no sugar and are sweetened naturally with low-sugar sweeteners. Be sure that refined sugar is also not replaced with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, and check for other unwanted ingredients such as food dyes and preservatives.

How To Pick The Best Vegan Protein Powder

Vegan protein powders can either be a single type of protein or a combination that includes rice protein, pea protein, hemp protein and more.

When buying vegan protein powder, look for:

  • Organic: It goes without saying that organic will always be your best option. When you choose organic, you avoid chemicals and additives that may be harmful to your body, and you are supporting a more sustainable and ethically produced product.
  • Sprouted, fermented, or harmonized: For some, vegan protein powders can be harder to digest and the bioavailability of the powder, referring to how readily your body absorbs the proteins, can be lower due to its plant-based nature. Sprouting and/or fermenting the ingredients improves digestibility, improves the ease and rate of absorption by your body, and can even help to improve the overall health of your gut. Harmonized is just another term for improving the digestibility of the protein, as well as includes the addition of other important nutrients and enzymes to improve your health. (6) Some protein powders also include digestive enzymes and probiotics, which can further ease digestion.
  • Read your label: Just because something is vegan, doesn’t automatically make it good for you. Read your labels to check for sugar content, artificial ingredients, potential allergens, and essentially all of the same offenders that you would in a non-vegan protein. The general rule of thumb is the fewer the ingredients listed that you have to google to know what they are, the better.

Additional Tips When Picking The Best Types of Protein Powder

Whether you are looking for a whey protein powder or a vegan protein powder, always look for:

  • No added sugars: Powders sweetened with stevia or monk fruit are best
  • No artificial colors or flavors
  • L-glutamine: This is a bonus ingredient that aids recovery and is excellent for the health of your gut and immune system. It is found naturally in high amounts in animal and dairy products, so in a vegan protein powder, it will need to be added. (7, 8, 9)
  • BCAA complex: BCAA, or branched chain amino acids, are essential proteins found in food named for their branched chemical structure. In addition to the benefits they provide to those with certain diseases and to prevent muscle wasting in bedridden patients, they are beneficial at preventing muscle breakdown, and therefore building muscle, in athletes and those who exercise regularly. (10)
  • At least 20 grams of protein per serving: A good protein powder should have a minimum of 20 grams and up to 30 grams of protein per serving. Any more than that is unnecessary.

The Best Protein Powder For Women

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Tricked you! There is no such thing as protein powder for women! You may see brands market their powders as protein “for men” or protein “for women”, but this is a complete falsehood. The only difference in protein requirements for men and women are the amounts, as men typically need more due to size. There are no types of protein that are better for women than for men, and there are no ingredients that are beneficial to one sex and not the other. We all need protein, and any essential nutrients or gut-healing ingredients added benefit everyone.

Hearty Soul Review of The Best Protein Powders

To help make the buying process easier for you, we’ve organized our favorite five whey and favorite five vegan protein powders for you to compare and contrast in one convenient location.

Top 5 Whey Protein Powders

If you don’t have any problems with dairy products or lactose, then these five powders are some of the best out there. Most come in a variety of flavors and have whole lines of proteins and other products that, if you like the protein powder, are worth checking out.

  1. Natural Force Organic Whey Protein
    types of protein
    Price Point: $34.99
    Servings per container: 15
    Protein: 20g per serving
    Sugar: 1g or less per serving
    Carbohydrates: 2g
    Bonus Ingredients: BCAAs, bioactive peptides
    Reasons to buy: Organic, grass-fed, free-range, American Humane certified cows, certified paleo, certified non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, sweetened with stevia.
    Cons: Higher price point as compared to other brands
  2. Designer Whey
    types of protein
    Price Point: $48.27
    Servings Per Container: About 59 (4lb container)
    Protein: 20g per serving
    Sugar: 2g
    Carbohydrates: 6g
    Bonus Ingredients: Glutamine, Leucine, Taurine, Phenylalanine, digestive enzymes, B-vitamins
    Reasons to buy: No added sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors, no preservatives, certified gluten-free and kosher, made from a blend of natural, GMO, hormone, and antibiotic free whey concentrate and whey isolate, contains fiber.
    Cons: This particular brand is not made from grass-fed cows. They do have a line made from grass-fed cows, however, it doesn’t have the same digestive enzymes added as this one does.
  3. Bare Blends Whey Protein
    types of protein
    Price Point: $34.99
    Servings Per Container: 15
    Protein: 22.2g
    Sugar: 2.79g
    Carbohydrates: 2.79g
    Bonus ingredients: The ingredient list boasts only 4 ingredients.
    Reasons to buy: Bare Blends Whey Protein is sweetened with stevia and is made entirely with natural, organic, GMO-free ingredients. It is made only from New Zealand and Australian dairy, which is regarded to be the purest and most high-quality dairy in the world.
    Cons: Higher price point as compared to other brands
  4. Promix P Whey Protein Concentrate
    types of protein
    Price Point: $79.99
    Servings Per Container: 76
    Protein: 25g
    Sugar: 1g
    Carbohydrates: 3g
    Bonus Ingredients: 5.9g BCAAs
    Reasons to buy: Promix P is undenatured protein made entirely from grass-fed California cows. It promises to always be made with real ingredients only; no bleaches, hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs. Promix P is gluten and soy free.
    Cons: Large container, difficult to store
  5. Naked Whey
    types of protein
    Price Point: $85.49
    Servings Per Container: 76
    Protein: 25g
    Sugars: 2g
    Carbohydrates: 3g
    Bonus Ingredients: 5.9g BCAAs
    Reasons to buy: Naked Whey is as it sounds: Grass-fed whey protein with no artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors; no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, soy, or gluten. It is cold pressed to avoid contamination throughout the manufacturing process and maintain the nature of the proteins.
    Cons: One of the most expensive proteins on the list, and also requires more storage space for the large container

Top 5 Vegan Protein Powders

There is a lot of diversity in vegan protein powders, as they can be made from peas, beans, legumes, rice, hemp, oats, and more. For those with highly specific dietary requirements, there are certain brands that make powders from a single source, such as rice or hemp, however, most brands use a blend of ingredients to achieve various textures, flavors, and nutrient profiles. These five vegan protein powders are some of the best that you can buy.

  1. Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Protein
    vegan protein
    Price Point: $39.99
    Servings Per Container: 24
    Protein: 15g
    Sugar: 0g
    Carbohydrates: 3g
    Bonus Ingredients: Fermented proteins for optimal digestion and gut health.
    Reasons to buy: Genuine health fermented vegan protein is one of the only protein powders that is fermented, not only making it easier to digest, but also making it optimal for gut healing and gut health. It is also gluten, GMO, and soy free.
    Cons: It is a bit lower in protein than we would normally recommend, and nowhere does it state that it is organic. For anyone who has difficulty with bloating and protein digestion, however, this is the product to go with.
  2. Vega Clean Protein
    vegan protein
    Price Point: $25.49
    Servings Per Container: 15
    Protein: 25g
    Sugars: 1g
    Carbohydrates: 3g
    Bonus Ingredients: 4g BCAAs, 4g glutamine, alfalfa.
    Reasons to Buy: While all of Vega’s products maintain that they use only natural ingredients and are GMO-free, Vega Clean is the only one that is GMO Free Verified. It is also gluten and soy free with no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, being sweetened with stevia.
    Cons: As with the Genuine Health protein, it also does not state anywhere that it is organic.
  3. Immune Power Protein
    vegan protein
    Price Point: $54.95
    Servings Per Container: 21
    Protein: 15g
    Sugars: 1g
    Carbohydrates: 6g
    Bonus Ingredients: Fermented, organic mushroom blend, organic broccoli and kale, sea kelp, probiotics.
    Reasons to buy: Another one of the few fermented protein powders on the market, Immune Power Protein also has probiotics to further its support of a healthy gut and immune system. It is organic, GMO, soy, and gluten free. It has a blend of eight different mushrooms to support your immune system, contains plenty of antioxidants thanks to the inclusion of broccoli and kale, and the addition of sea kelp to help keep you feeling full for longer and control blood sugar spikes.
    Cons: Again, this protein powder has slightly less protein per serving than we would normally recommend, however it has so much more to offer that we had to include it. It may also not be suitable for anyone sensitive to quinoa, as it does include quinoa and amaranth protein in its blend.
  4. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Raw Vegan Protein
    vegan protein
    Price Point: $37.88
    Servings Per Container: 30
    Protein: 16g
    Sugars: 0g
    Carbohydrates: 4g
    Bonus Ingredients: Goji berries, MCT oil from coconuts.
    Reasons to buy: Sunwarrior protein is unique in that it is a company that specializes in raw protein powders. The Warrior Blend consists of legumes and hemp protein, as well as the proteins and antioxidants from goji berries and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) from coconut to complete the protein and make it more digestible. It is also soy, sugar, GMO, gluten, and dairy free and certified organic.
    Cons: Less than the standard twenty grams of protein per serving, and its raw nature may be harder for some to digest.
  5. ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Powder
    vegan protein
    Price Point: $29.99
    Servings Per Container: 15
    Protein: 18g
    Sugars: 4g
    Carbohydrates: 10g
    Bonus Ingredients: 200mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids
    Reasons to buy: Aloha Protein is one of the only Omega-3 containing proteins, and is also a source of both iron and magnesium. It is organic, non-GMO, and free from soy, gluten, antibiotics, hormones, and stevia, instead of sweetening with coconut sugar.
    Cons: Because they choose to forgo stevia and sweeten with coconut sugar, this blend is a touch higher in sugar than some of the others in both sugars and carbohydrates.

The Bottom Line

Protein powders are an excellent substitute for regular food sources. They are a simple solution to the conundrum of a healthy, on-the-go breakfast and make nutritious snacking throughout your busy day easy and portable. Choosing a protein powder to buy entirely depends on your dietary needs, budget, and preference. All types of protein powder have their own flavor and texture and may or may not agree with your stomach, and it may take a few tries until you find the one that is right for you. Once you find the one that suits you best, you’re set! Use your protein powder to make delicious smoothies, protein-packed porridge, or get a little more adventurous and make protein pancakes or your own homemade protein bars.

Happy shopping!

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Health Network
We believe in using natural ingredients to be as healthy as possible. We believe dieting will never work as well as a lifestyle of healthy habits will. We believe you can treat pain and disease without relying on addictive drugs. We believe being happy is a big part of a healthy life.
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