Once upon a time, protein-packed smoothies were reserved for totally obsessed body builders and card-carrying health nuts, and tasted so bad they were often considered a dare, if not a rite of passage. Thankfully, those days are long gone. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person today who’s unfamiliar with at least the concept of protein powder, and the fan base for a daily smoothie stretches from small children to busy executives and everyone in between! But with so many protein powders on the market (and new ones popping up daily), how do you know which one to pick? How are they different? What makes one better than another? There's a few moving parts here, so I'll share with you exactly what I look for when choosing a protein powder that's truly deserving of my next green smoothie.
What to Avoid
Let's start with the low-hanging fruit first: what a protein powder does not include is just as important as what it does. There are several unhealthy or highly controversial ingredients that quickly disqualify a protein powder from the valuable position of your kitchen shelf. Perhaps the biggest offender is protein isolates. Most commonly from soy (but occasionally from other ingredients like whey or casein), “isolated” proteins are another way of saying “very highly processed.” These types of proteins are great for the manufacturer because they are inexpensive and have a very long shelf life, but they're terrible for your digestive system and gut health. When you see “isolate” on the ingredients, steer clear!
Additionally, because protein powder should really be nothing more than functional food, you'll also want to avoid any kind of non-organic soy products, corn products, and preferably dairy- and animal-based products (all are difficult to digest and promote inflammation). And although it may seem obvious, avoid protein powders that contain sugar, artificial colors or chemical sweeteners like aspartame.
What to Seek Out
But enough with the negative, let's look at what should be in the mix! Plant-based proteins are an excellent choice since they’re easier to digest, environmentally friendly and less allergenic. Top sources include proteins from seeds like Hemp, flax, Chia and pumpkin. Other good varieties might include pea, quinoa, chickpea and organic brown rice. The quantity of protein is less important than the quality, so always read the ingredients before looking at the nutrition facts.
There was a time where protein powders would stop right there – they contained protein and not much else. Today, manufacturers are smarter and are starting to include other impressive superfoods without sacrificing flavor. This boils down to a subject I love to cover: being a health opportunist. If you have the opportunity to snag a protein powder that covers your macronutrient needs PLUS adds in the benefits of superfoods like Goji Berries, Wheatgrass, spirulina, and Camu at the same time…go for it! This is a huge competitive edge that sets apart some great protein powders from the rest. Always seek to make the most of every healthy effort.
The last thing I look for is an element of nutrition that we will continue to hear more about in the upcoming years: probiotics. Probiotics enhance your good gut flora, and the level of gut health you maintain is at the root of the health you enjoy as a whole. Seriously, it's incredibly important! This subject relates especially to protein powders, because unlike natural carbohydrates or good fats, proteins are among the most difficult elements for your body to digest, even when eating a super clean diet. Incorporating probiotics while consuming protein is a simple way to enhance your body's digestive efforts, while keeping your gut happy and working efficiently. If a protein powder contains probiotics, consider it to have an extra-credit gold star.
By looking closely at the ingredients, you should be able to narrow down your list of choices quickly. If you're looking for a particularly great-tasting blend, try Navitas Organics Vanilla & Greens or Cacao & Greens Essential Blends – both meet every checkmark on our list and are all 100% organic with a big boost of bonus greens. I hope this nutritional knowledge helps to take your smoothies to the new healthy heights you need!