More On Protein Powder

This week, I’ll continue with my protein powder dissection.  Like I said in my last post about soy protein, I know that a lot of you make exceptions in your otherwise Paleo diets for things like protein powders.  As I’ve iterated over and over, I do not condone protein powders as mainstays in people’s diets – it hurts my soul to think of you guys subsisting on weird, flavored powders.  Real, whole, nutrient dense food is the way to go.  Instead of protein powders, eat this.

A friend wrote me an email regarding my last post on soy protein powder, and I’ll share it with you here:

Wow, that’s cool Neely.  I’ve never liked soy because I never felt it was food. Do take a look at this one. I feel that I’m somewhat eating food when I use it.  Give us the lowdown on this type of protein.

PS: I don’t feel that whey is food either, except if I have it once in a blue moon. Egg protein I suspect is better but it’s so expensive.

I looked at the protein powder he linked me to, which is a rice protein/pea protein mix.  It’s a mix because rice and pea are both low in certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein), but when put together they sort of complete each other.  Here’s my response to his email:

About your question. I have a question for you in return.  Why do you use protein powder?

About your pea/rice protein powder:

1.  It’s not organic, so there’s a good chance you’re getting GMO’s and pesticides, among other things.  Not good.

2. Rice and peas both contain lectins, phytates and other anti-nutrients – so they’re not the easiest things in the world to digest, even after they’ve been über-processed to make the powder.

3. It says they’re “hypo-allergenic”, unlike whey, soy and egg.  Not true.  The term “hypo-allergenic” is misleading and arbitrary.  We all are sensitive to different foods.  You might be sensitive to rice, and I might be sensitive to soy.  Turns out that A LOT of people are sensitive to rice.

4. You said you thought egg protein is probably better for you.  No, egg protein isn’t necessarily better for you.  Why not just eat eggs? I just called 3 distributors of egg white protein powders, only one of whom could even vaguely describe how the protein powder was made.  What I gathered is that it’s basically separated from the yolk, pasteurized for a few minutes in 134 degree heat and then spray dried, which means it’s dried with more heat to make a powder.  I’m not saying that cooking eggs isn’t a good idea, but who knows how high the heat is, for how long they heat it, and where the eggs come from in the first place.  One of the two big egg white protein powder manufacturers is in China, although I had to find that out for myself since the guy at Jay Robb’s refused to give me their manufacturer’s name.

In my opinion, it’s these kinds of overly processed foods that make us have sensitivities.  I’ve had more people come to me lately who were like, “I didn’t used to be sensitive to eggs (or soy), but then I started eating an egg (or soy) protein powder every day for a couple of years and now I can’t touch the stuff without getting (enter symptom here).”

You may have gathered from this exchange that 1) I am not a huge fan of my friend’s protein powder and 2) I like to call food peddlers and antagonize them.  The guy at Jay Robb’s hung up on me because I was asking questions he didn’t want to answer (and that’s definitely not the first time that’s happened to me).  The truth was that he was probably upset because he didn’t know the answers because he hadn’t done proper research on his manufacturer.  Doesn’t that scare you?  In an ideal world, if you didn’t grow and make your food yourself, you would be told up front where your food came from and how it was made.  But in this world, there’s no good reason to trust people who are selling food to you.  It’s their job to persuade you to buy the food they distribute, so why would they disclose anything bad about it?  They’re no different than used car salespeople (no offense to any used car salespeople out there).

Back to egg white protein powder.  Unless it states that you’re eating lightly heated eggs from pasture raised chickens, you’re most likely getting eggs that were factory farmed in China, born from mangy, abused chickens with their beaks cut off who were fed their own manure and a constant stream of antibiotics.

By the way, this does NOT mean you should stop eating eggs.  I get my eggs from a local family farm for $3.50 per dozen.  The chickens run around all day on the land eating bugs, grass, and some supplemental grains.  Plenty of the eggs at health food stores come from humanely raised chickens, too. You just have to do your research.

So if you’re going to use egg white protein powder, do it knowing where those eggs came from and how they were processed, but good luck with that.  Eggs are probably the cheapest form of animal protein we can buy, though, so why not just eat them instead?

Whey Protein Powder
A lot of Paleo-ish gurus are ok with whey powder, but I’m not.  I have many issues with whey, but here’s number one: unless it’s organic or from a grass-fed source, the milk they use to obtain the whey comes from factory farmed animals, which means it’s devoid of many nutrients and chock full of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and pus.  Yes, pus.  The cows are almost always mistreated, as well.  The poor ladies in the video below are who you get your non-organic dairy products from.

Don’t go turning vegan on me now, though.  You generally won’t see abuse and neglect like that on small, family farms or organic farms.  Again, you have to do your research.  But despite the fact that you can buy organic whey protein powder, there are still plenty of problems with organic dairy products.  Namely pasteurization and homogenization.

Besides all that, though, milk isn’t technically Paleo unless it’s coming from your mother’s teat.  Read this post, “Is Dairy Paleo?” for more info on that one.  I know a lot of Paleo gurus will say something different, like, well it’s sort of Paleo.  Eat it sometimes, but only if you’re trying to gain weight, etc.  I don’t buy it.  Maybe some raw cheeses are okay for some people, but in general I think a lot of people would feel a lot better if they stopped eating dairy, including whey protein.

So, to sum this thing up, don’t eat protein powders.  Don’t eat egg white, pea, rice, or whey protein powder.  Not on a regular basis, at least.  That is, if you can avoid it, and I think you can.


  1. Usually after a workout I have a whey protein shake to help me recover. What do you suggest would be something that would be a good substitute for post workout?

    1. Honestly, what you usually eat. If you’re going for straight protein, just eat some really lean fish or poultry. But I know a lot of people are trending towards carby Paleo foods like sweet potatoes, etc. post workout.

    1. @luther_mcdonald – By the title, it sounds like it’s probably made from legumes or grains, like pea protein or rice protein? So that’s pretty un-Paleo. Like I said in the post, try real food like meat and eggs (not just egg whites, either).

  2. If it is not feasible for me to eat enough and fresh (not microwaved) food after my workout what would you suggest? I am training to compete in the CrossFit games competition so having an effective post workout regimen is essential to performance and repeatability.

    1. @Sam_D – Can you bake a bunch of chicken breasts or burgers or whatever kind of meat you like in the beginning of the week and bring one along in a cooler pack to your workouts with some fresh veggies/fruit and avocado? If you tolerate nuts, could you add some of those in to make it more fat and calorie dense, since you say you have a problem getting enough food? Remember that we eat meat cold in salads all the time, so food doesn’t necessarily need to be heated/microwaved. Just think leftovers. Every time you cook a meal, cook twice as much so you can have it the next day.

  3. Although paleo diet makes a lot of sense from a natural consumption standpoint, there are some misconceptions they create when it comes to protein consumption. The fact of the matter is that whey protein has been scientifically proven to be the best form o ingestible protein. Even better than red meat, which is second. This is because of their higher levels of BCAA. BCAAs are the main contributors toward positive protein synthesis, which is what makes building muscle possible. It also allows us to keep our muscle, and the older we get the more it has been proven that whey protein becomes very important for muscle retention. Furthermore, raw milk, and raw whey protein sources have been clinically shown to have high correlations with allergy prevention, insulin clans diabetes control, heart disease and stroke prevention, and healthy function. Anyone who recommends another person to not consume whey protein is not doing their homework and not reading the scientific facts on the matter; they are spreading dangerous misinformation… Be ware.

  4. I wish I could find a Paleo approved protein powder. I am limited to the kinds of animal protein I can eat because of both a rare disorder AND spiritual reasons. I don’t eat chicken (food poisoning too many times) I can’t eat pork or shellfish (both health and spiritual reasons) so I am limited to eggs or fish (YUCK) for breakfast…sometimes I’ll eat kosher, organic beef but that makes 2 options for my breakfast…also before I workout I like to make a smoothie to both get in more fruits (like berries) and veggies in for my day and not be too weighed down. Can someone tell me is Hemp or pea protein Paleo approved…I am new to this diet and need a real option here. Thank you.

  5. Nick- Look into what Jordan Rubin has to say about dairy from most cows they have a protein called A1 casein, very deadly to the body. He sells some that has A2 I wouldn’t consume any dairy but his if I were you.

  6. Funny, I have been reading all your articles about soy and protein powders lately ready to give up on all of my “healthy” protein recovery shakes. Last year I looked the other way at soy lecithin…not so much now..I was pitched a speal by Herbalife today and although I am sure Herbalife is changing lives and helping people to lose weight because of the caloric reduction and meal replacements. I just can’t imagine pitching to people to take soy and protein powder supplements instead of REAL organic and grass fed and/ pasteured FOOD! It is sad the health and wellness industry is so focused around selling a product.

  7. I am a strong advocate of knowing and understanding what you are putting in your body. What I know for sure is that we are significantly more knowledgeable in 2013 than our neanderthal (sp?) ancesters regardinging our food preperation. The development of supplements is nothing short of amazing. There are several companies that go out of their way to provide quality supplements to those who are willing to search further than the local drug store or big box store. I have found several protein supplements that are wonderful (raw protein by garden of life is my current post workout fave). I’m not a fan of whey (bad gas :)), but I did find some high quality ones when I was using it. Keep this in mind: cooking your meat is “processing” it, and eating anything processed has risks (research cooking meat). That said, we know now that despite the risks, eating cooked meat has benefits that outway those risks. Same goes for supplements. Just make sure your supplements come from healthy/happy plants and animals, and that they are processed in the safest way possible.

  8. By the way… If cavemen were offered a supplement after a hard day of wrestling sabre-toothed jack rabbits, I bet they would take it 99% of the time. Do paleo gurus take medicines (they’re mostly processed foods)

    Not trying to be a prick; just make people think

  9. I totally hear and respect your take on protein powders and acknowledge that they are more than a few steps removed from ‘real’ food. However, after my 30 day challenge I have found myself developing a mild aversion to meat after 2 meals with it…getting pretty tired of eggs too. I have about 30 pounds to lose so am trying to keep my carbs under 100g per day. It’s tempting to use a whey based protein powder to fill the gap. I’d love some other suggestions to this problem though. Some days by the time I get to dinner, I look down at my serving of meat and have to force myself to choke it down. Tomorrow is day 30 of my challenge.

    Mahalo nui for the input.

  10. consider Fish Protein Powder as an alternative – AminoMarine brand is new to USA market.
    it tastes good – clean label, heavily rinsed to remove odors from the oil.

    Dairy Free, Gluten Free, rGBH Free, Wild Catch Fish: no antibiotics, no hormones added. clean south pacific so no heavy metal, no pcb’s issues.

  11. My answer to Steve who asked the question about the paleo protein powder that comes from beef…

    I looked into that beef protein as an option for our protein bars, but decided against it. This is does not state that the beef is hormone free, antibiotic free, or grass fed. So, I’ve decided to stick with the GRASS-FED, NON-GMO, HORMONE FREE whey isolate that we use in our MariGold Bars.

  12. As much as I would love to eat only real food, my body doesn’t digest/break down food very well, so I become really low in amino acids if I do not consume protein in a very absorbable form at least some of the time…ie protein powder. I have to avoid egg and whey due to sensitivities, so am stuck with rice or hemp protein, but wish I had some better alternatives.

  13. Hi Neely,

    A customer forwarded this page to us and we thought we would write you to clear some things up about Nutribody Protein.

    1. Everything in the rice/pea protein is organic except for the pea protein, which is non-GMO—so GMO is a non-issue. As for the pea protein, the problem is that no one makes “certified” organic pea protein. So yes, not being organic is an issue. But again, it’s non-GMO.

    2. Actually, protein digestibility is testable and quantifiable. For example, analysis shows that after four hours, the body digests over 86% of all ingested rice protein, compared with about 57% for soy. In the end, rice protein has a biological value of between 70-80, a net protein utilization of about 76, and a total absorption ration of some 98%. Pea protein is similar. The net result is, that all theoretical constraints aside, at 98% absorption, rice and pea protein rank just below whey isolate and egg. In the world of proteins, they are highly digestible.

    3. Actually, the term is not arbitrary. The FDA has identified the eight protein groups that have to be listed as allergens on a food label…and rice and pea protein are not among them. Soy and dairy/whey are. That said, your statement that everybody is allergic to something is true, but needs to be taken with a grain of salt—otherwise no one would bathe because some people are allergic to water or step into the sunlight. In the end, rice and pea protein are considered hypoallergenic because so few people are allergic to them.

    4. As to why one might want to use supplemental protein, you probably don’t in normal day to day living where your protein requirement is 45-55 g a day. But if you are on a regular exercise program or are recovering from an injury that requirement can climb to 75 g a day. And if you’re body building or on an intense workout program, that can climb to 125 g or more a day. You can’t get that from food alone, not without eating massive quantities of some questionable foods. And there is one other group that can benefit from protein supplementation: seniors. Because of natural muscle wasting associated with hormonal changes as people age, their protein requirement actually goes up over time…as their appetite tends to decrease. Thus the need for supplemental protein in a concentrated form.

    Hope that helps answer your questions.

  14. If you are in the US you aren’t getting Chinese egg white powder. Only country that has been deemed equivalent and thus able to ship egg white powder into the US is Canada. Egg white powder ISN’T pasteurized before it is spray dried. It is pasteurized in a hot room afterwards at a gentle temperature to assure killing bacteria.

    1. Sandy and Dean,
      Thank you both for sharing this valuable information with us. We truly appreciate it!

      Best regards,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CN
      Paleo Plan

  15. The thought of meat and protein makes me sick…. I crave vegetables and fruit not meat. I do not eat meat how can I implement the recommended protein? I just started paleo, but certainly our ancestors went without meat many times…….

    1. Hi Cheyenne,

      Thanks for your comment and congrats on taking the Paleo plunge! Here are a few articles that you might find helpful with regards to transitioning from veg to Paleo:

      Can a Vegetarian or Vegan Be Paleo?

      How Does a Vegetarian Transition to Paleo?

      You might also want to check out this article that I wrote recently, in which I discuss some of the issues with the bio-availability of protein from plant-based foods.

      I truly empathize with your situation. I was a vegetarian/vegan for nearly 25 years, and I went from Veg to Paleo after I became very ill. I can honestly say that learning to eat meat again was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, on many levels. I can also tell you now, after more than 5 years of being on the Paleo diet, that it was hands down the best decision I ever made for myself. I definitely had to take a ‘baby step’ approach to learning to eat meat again, but it was absolutely worth it, and I’ve never felt better in my life. It’s true that our ancestors “went without meat many times”, and they also went without food altogether many times as well. They ate what was available, when it was available, which is ultimately how our bodies do the best…rotating our protein and plant food sources, with the seasons. :) Let us know how we can be of help during your transition, and again, congrats on deciding to try Paleo on for size!

      Best regards,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS®

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