Are the ingredients in protein powders safe for your body? The FDA does not strictly regulate these products, so there is no guarantee they’re safe to use. So you’re on your own. To help you navigate the protein powder jungle, here’s a primer on some popular ingredients. Our approach: Unless science shows it’s a safe ingredient, we’d rather skip it.
As the by-product of cheese production, whey is an animal-based source of protein. It makes up around 20 percent of the protein in milk. Whey is an excellent source of protein, helping suppress appetite and enhancing muscle mass. It is digested and absorbed quickly by the body.
Whey Isolate is a fat-free and lactose-free version of whey protein.
Another dairy-based source of protein, casein makes up around 80 percent of the protein in milk. Casein doesn’t digest as quickly as whey, and it is absorbed at a slower rate.
This supplement is often taken for the purpose of enhancing muscle growth. It’s not a protein but a substance that our bodies produce from an amino acid, a building block of protein. It is found in some protein powders. Studies do show that there is a positive correlation between muscle growth and use of creatine, but there are also minor side effects like nausea, dizziness, and depression. There are also reports of side effects such as dehydration, high blood pressure, low blood sugar and pain or blood clots in the lower leg.
Verdict: Likely Safe for Healthy Adults — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to consult their physicians before using creatine.
Though lecithin is a fat additive derived from soy, it does not contain the potentially beneficial phytoestrogens in other soy foods. It does provide choline, a nutrient. Plus it helps to reduce clumping in the protein shake.
This naturally occurring enzyme is added to some protein powders to aid digestion. Most people produce enough lactase to digest milk sugars, but people who are deficient in lactase can’t. They’re lactose intolerant. Adding lactase to protein powders make it easier to digest for them.
Acesulfame K and other artificial sweeteners found in protein mixes do raise concern. This specific sweetener contains methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no direct link between artificial sweeteners and cancer, but others such as the Centers for Science in the Public Interest have called for more studies.
There are legitimate concerns, regarding unhealthy exposure to toxic substances in trace amounts. Consumer reports stated in 2010, the levels of arsenic and cadmium were either approaching or exceeding the limit for an individual consuming Muscle Milk three times a day. Cadmium is dangerous for the kidneys and it takes an extremely long time to leave the body after it’s consumed.
Verdict: Not Safe
If you’re looking for extra protein in your smoothie, know your brand and check labels for ingredients. Just because it’s sold doesn’t mean it’s safe.