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Everything You Need to Know About Protein Powders—Vegan, Paleo, and Gluten-Free!

August 23, 2016

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Protein powders get a bad rap.

Protein shakes might be something that you’ve shied away from in the past, because they're usually associated with building muscle rather than making a mindful meal. But here’s the thing—the latest generation of powders and shakes can be a health-conscious eater’s secret breakfast weapon.

These new formulas use whole, organic ingredients to provide protein, healthy fats, and superfood nutrition in a convenient little package. Perfect for those mornings where you just don’t have time to whip up scrambled eggs or when you have to eat on the go, they’re easy to add into your favorite smoothie or whipped into nut milk to make a complete meal in less than five minutes!

But not all protein powders are created equal.

Here’s what to look for next time you’re searching for a good option:

Clean ingredients
Most importantly, make sure that whatever formula you pick up is made with mostly organic products. Take a look at the list of ingredients on the label—if you see added sweeteners or anything ending in -ose, stay away! Usually those are artificial, chemically-made sugar substitutes that can seriously mess with your body’s cravings. It’s best to avoid the artificial stuff (no matter how good it tastes at first) and stick to all-natural, organic ingredients.

At least 15 grams of protein
If you’re using a protein powder in a smoothie or on it’s own as a meal replacement, be sure to grab one that has a sufficient amount of protein to make sure you’re getting enough calories to stay energized and focused. Try to get in at least 15 grams, and as many as 30 grams if you’re working out daily.

It’s also helpful to take a look at the fiber count on your powder. Prebiotic fiber like inulin is often added to protein powder to encourage digestion and improve gut health. If you notice that your favorite brand doesn’t have at least five grams of fiber, try throwing some greens into the blender with your protein to boost your overall fiber intake.

A good protein source
You might need to experiment a bit with which type of protein works best for you. For example, whey is popular protein source, but because it’s derived from dairy milk many people are allergic or have trouble digesting it. And some vegan protein powders contain grain or oat flour, which means they aren’t necessarily gluten-free. Try these options if you follow a specific diet:

  • For vegans: Look for formulas that contain a combination of soy, pea, oat, chia, flax, rice, or hemp proteins. Hemp- and chia-based proteins are especially beneficial because they contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein and necessary for healthy muscle growth.

  • For Paleo eaters: Whey protein isolate, casein, and egg white protein are all considered Paleo-friendly protein powders. Whey protein isolate is a little more challenging to find that whey protein concentrate, but it’s considered higher quality and easier to digest because it goes through a process that separates the lactose proteins (which cause bloating and indigestion) from the whey proteins.

  • For gluten-free: If you have a gluten intolerance, be sure to read the label on your protein carefully—some brands contain gluten as a filler. Rice protein or hemp protein powders are typically a safe bet.

Once your find a formula that works for you, making a quick breakfast is easy! Just throw a scoop into your favorite smoothie recipe, or blend together with almond milk and you’re good to go!

What is your favorite way to use protein powder? Share in the comments below. 

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