Dear JJ: I have a friend who insists her protein shakes, which she loads with soy powder and higher-sugar fruits like bananas, are perfectly healthy. I respectfully disagree. Is it possible to screw up protein shakes, which typically carry a health halo?
Protein shakes are my No. 1 needle mover for fast, lasting fat loss because they get results. I've had clients do nothing else than substitute a protein shake for breakfast and lose weight.
By now, you know high-protein foods curb your appetite and keep you full longer. One study found a protein-rich breakfast suppresses hunger far better than a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast.
But I get it. You don't always have time or an appetite for a substantial protein-rich breakfast. That's why a protein shake becomes ideal.
Studies show protein shakes can keep you burn fat and keep it off better. One meta-analysis found one or two nutrient-fortified meal replacements could "safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease."
To get those and other benefits, you'll want to design a protein shake correctly. I don't want you making these three mistakes that crash-and-burn an otherwise-healthy protein shake.
Turning A Protein Shake Into an Adult Milkshake
Adding high-sugar impact ingredients like dried fruit, sweetened nut milks, and sugar-added almond butter can easily turn a potentially healthy shake into a sugar-loaded, fat-storing disaster.
Instead, opt for low-sugar impact ingredients. I blend protein powder with unsweetened coconut milk, frozen raspberries, avocado, kale, and freshly ground flax seeds. You have an easy, delicious, fat-blasting breakfast in minutes that keeps you full for hours.
Choosing the Wrong Protein Powder
Among a growing array of choices, finding the right protein powder can become a challenge. If you don't believe me, visit your local supermarket or health food store and read those labels.
I realize whey -- the second most abundant protein in milk after casein -- becomes the gold standard for protein powders.
Problem is, whey absorbs very quickly. That might be fine post-workout if you don't have dairy intolerances (and keep in mind many people do), but as a meal replacement whey becomes a disaster.
One study found whey creates an insulin-raising effect similar to white bread. That explains why you're hungry an hour after a whey shake, and not for wild salmon and Brussels sprouts either.
Casein protein becomes another no-go. While it absorbs more slowly than whey, it comes with all of dairy's potential reactivity. One study found casein peptides behave very similarly to gluten: They can react with opiate receptors in the brain, mimicking drug-like effects.
Soy -- usually found in protein powders as cheap soy isolate -- also gets the thumbs down.
"Soybeans -- even organically grown soybeans -- naturally contain 'antinutrients' such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens and phytoestrogens," writes Dr. Joseph Mercola. "Traditional fermentation destroys these antinutrients [but] most Westerners do not consume fermented soy, but rather unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soymilk, tofu, [textured vegetable protein or] TVP, and soy infant formula."
Instead, choose non-soy, non-dairy protein powder. My favorite plant proteins include rice, pea, chia, chlorella, or cranberry protein.
Another smart option is de-fatted beef protein powder (look for one that comes from Swedish grass-fed cows), which provides whey's creaminess without dairy's reactivity.
Whichever you choose, your powder should contain 20-25 grams of protein per serving. If you're very athletic, have significant weight to lose, or recovering from surgery or injury, you may need to bump up intake to 30 grams or more.
Buying Powders with Junk Ingredients
Manufacturers make powders palatable and pretty with preservatives, maltodextrin (corn), fructose and other sugars, excessive sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners. Those should all become red flags to put that powder back!
Read labels carefully, buy professional brands, and opt for protein powders with fewer ingredients that are low-sugar impact. Manufacturers become crafty about slipping innocuous-sounding sneaky sugars in protein powders. My friend Jonathan Bailor lists 57 of them here.
My rule is no more than five grams of added sugar per 100-calorie serving, and of course less becomes even better.
If you regularly make protein shakes, what one mistake would you add here? Share yours below. And keep those great questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.