Paleo protein powders seem like oxymoron.
After all, we all know our ancestors didn’t order Paleo protein powders on Amazon, or plug in their Ninja blender to whip up a post-workout Chunky Monkey smoothie. They got their protein from the “real deal” like deers, fish and buffalo. Paleo protein powder is more like a “pseudo-Paleo” food that falls within an 80/20 philosophy of eating (i.e. 80% of the time, eat real whole foods, 20% of the time, let life happen.
Smoothies & Paleo Protein Powders Are the New Buffalo
Nevertheless, thanks to human adaptation and the Industrial Revolution, life in modern times is a little different then “back in the day” and the protein shake or green smoothie have become dietary staples—especially for busy people on-the-go and fitness enthusiasts.
Shakes and smoothies are also great options for folks who have special dietary needs, like gut issues or who are looking to put on weight or muscle, and want an easy way to get more power packed nutrition and calories in (without feeling stuffed or bloated).
Unfortunately, the majority of protein powders out there—even “Paleo protein powders”—are stacked with tons of ingredients that negate any nutritional benefit from the protein powder itself.
The Problem with Paleo Protein Powders
Even if a protein powder label claims “high in protein,” or “Paleo-friendly,” the bigger question is: Can you absorb it?
Chances are, if the protein powder—even a “Paleo protein powder”—is filled with additives, chemicals, and anti-nutrients (like soy, rice, pea protein or peanuts), then you are NOT really getting the biggest nutrient bang for your buck.
Bloating, constipation, gas, loose watery stools and diarrhea are common side effects people experience when consuming paleo protein powders on a regular basis—and many people don’t even question that their protein powder formula could be triggering their gut symptoms (especially if the label claims it’s a healthy “Paleo-friendly protein powder”).
If you’re running to the bathroom shortly after your smoothie, bloated or gassy during the day, or wondering why you’re always constipated (despite “eating healthy”)…there might be something in the “water” (i.e. your “healthy” Paleo protein powder).
How to choose the BEST protein powder for you?
Here are 5 Essentials to Look for When Choosing the BEST Paleo Protein Powder, and the 10 Best Paleo Protein Powders that meet the criteria.
5 Essentials to Look for When Choosing the BEST Paleo Protein Powder
1. Artificial Sweeteners
While we all know that sugar is not our BFF, sugar-free alternatives are fine, right?! Especially “natural ones” like stevia!…Not so fast.Artificial sweeteners, including Aspartame, Acesulfame, Sucralose, Erythritol (in many “Keto” products) and yes, stevia are STILL synthesized chemical products (Read: Health nightmares). Artificial sweeteners are associated with side effects (Tandel, 2011) similar, if not worse, to high amounts of sugar, including blurred vision, heart palpitations and wreaking major havoc on your digestion, including diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
In addition, a vast majority of “natural” stevia sold in stores and put into products is NOT the real thing, as processing and heating methods strip it of any real nutritional value it had before. So are ANY sweeteners ok?
Recommended “Sweeteners” Include:
Coconut water, monk fruit, fruit extracts and natural (no sweetener added) flavors (you can add fruit to a smoothie for taste. Disclaimer: some people CAN tolerate “organic” (non-GMO) stevia—however, keep in mind, it’s still highly processed.
2. Protein Type
Your protein powder is only as good as you can absorb it.In general, Whey protein, egg white, soy protein, pea protein and rice proteins are the LEAST digestible powders sold on shelves—especially if you’re not buying a quality source of these proteins or a highly-heated and processed form. Soy, rice and peas contain “anti-nutrients” also known as phytic acid and lectins, both associated with symptoms such as gas and bloating and nutrient malabsorption.
Many of these components are also GMO-derived (genetically modified organisms) with a host of non-gut-friendly side effects.
As for egg white protein and whey protein, since dairy and eggs are considered some of the most “inflammatory” and cross-contaminating foods with gluten, these proteins don’t sit well with everyone.
Egg whites in particular (vs. egg yolks) contain albumin—a protein highly associated with food sensitivities and allergies. Many folks experience a feeling of “egg belly” (indigestion) when they consume a concentrated dose of egg whites.
Whey is a derivative of dairy, and those with dairy and/or gluten sensitivities may find their symptoms (gastrointestinal, allergies, low immunity, skin breakouts) flare when consumed.
The two most common forms of whey are whey concentrate and whey isolate .The main difference is that whey isolates are more pure than concentrate, meaning other non-protein components have been partially removed to “isolate” the whey protein and contain less lactose overall (i.e. better for lactose intolerance).
Whey ALSO comes in the form of “grass-fed” or standard whey and more and more conscious supplement companies are promoting that their “grass-fed” whey is better.
However, unlike grass-fed and grass-finished whole meats, most “grass-fed” wheys on the market are ALOT of hype, due to the high-heating and processing of many formulas.
Current research does NOT support the claims that whey from grass-fed cows (or “grass-fed whey”) is better” for us or different than grain-fed at a macronutrient level simply because the heating and standard high-pasteurization process destroys the beneficial CLA and protein profiles we get from grass-fed whey in particular (Van Hekken et al, 2017).
In other words:
Don’t be fooled by fancy labels claiming “grass-fed whey,” or “grass-fed dairy” because once it’s in powdered, the grass-fed qualities don’t make a difference (unless its marked as “low pasteurized,” “raw grass-fed” and/or “cold-processed”)
Recommended Protein Types:
- The more “real food” protein powder options include:
- Grass-fed Beef Isolate
- Bone Broth Protein
- Low-Pastuerized, Cold-Processed Whey (If you tolerate dairy)
- Goat’s Milk Whey (if you tolerate dairy)
3. Other Additives
GMO’s like Malodextrin, Soy,Soy Lecthin, Xanthin Gum, Yeast, Lactic Acid, “Natural” or “Artificial” Flavorings, Corn, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Amino Acids, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, and “Vitamins” are not you (or your gut’s) friends. Period. Chances are if you don’t know what an ingredient really is…your body doesn’t either.
4. Company Transparency & Customer Service
How transparent, honest and accessible is the company? Do you have questions about the processing? Do they answer it? If you’re not satisfied with the product, do they allow returns or credits? These markers influence the credibility of not only the company itself, but the products they sell. A company that believes in their product and the health claims they make, stands by it, and is adamant about providing you with not only a convenience, but quality.
5. Not a Meal Replacement
Simply put: Paleo protein powders are supplements—supports to enhance your nutrition and intake, but NOT replace real food. Therefore, when looking for a protein powder to supplement, or add, to your diet, keep in mind that: (1.) You CANNOT supplement your way out of a poor diet, AND (2.) protein powder is NOT real food.
10 Best Paleo Protein Powders
- Organic Grass-fed Beef Bone Broth Powder Left Coast Performance
- Primal Health Paleo Protein
- Vital Proteins Collagen Powder (like the Dark Chocolate or Vanilla)
- PurePaleo by Designs for Health
- Mt. Capra Goat Whey Protein
- Wild Whey by Wild Foods
- Grass-fed Whey by Raw Organic Whey
- Prime Protein (Beef Isolate) by Equip Foods
- Pastured Eggs (yes, you can simply crack a quality egg or two into your smoothie and blend up)
- Pure Paleo Protein by Amy Myers
- Bonus: Bone Broth (my personal favorite—a real food) by OssogoodBones (use code “THRIVE” for $10 off)