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Protein powder.

How to choose the healthiest protein powder

How do you know which protein powder is right for you? And is it best for your diet? Shayna Komar, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, weighs in.

Reasons to use protein powder

Komar says protein powder may be a beneficial supplement in your diet if you:

  • Are beginning a rigorous new exercise regimen.

  • Are preparing for or recovering from surgery.

  • Are still growing.

  • Follow a strict food plan (such as a vegan diet) that doesn’t give you enough protein.

“Protein powder can be an easy, fast and convenient way to get good quality protein in your day,” she says. “It also offers faster protein absorption for your post-workout protein needs.”

How much protein to eat per day

If you get enough protein from your diet, you probably don’t need a protein powder supplement.

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of protein is:

  • 0.84 grams per kilogram of body weight for adult males.

  • 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight for adult females.

“It’s important to note the average person who goes to the gym a few times a week doesn’t necessarily need protein powder,” she says. “Eating good quality, whole food sources of protein three to four times per day is fine.”

The difference between whey protein and plant-based protein

If you want to supplement your diet with protein powder, it can be hard to narrow down the right choice for your needs. Most formulas contain either whey protein or plant-based protein.

“I usually recommend plant-based protein powders that come from pea, rice, sunflower or hemp,” Komar says. “They are typically well-digested by the average person because they have fiber and digestive enzymes. The whey protein comes from milk, which is a complete protein, but also contains lactose, which can cause stomach issues in some people.”

When selecting a protein, she recommends choosing a brand that contains:

  • Complete protein. This means it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need. To get complete protein from a plant-based source, choose a formula that includes both pea and brown rice protein to get all the amino acids you would get from whey protein.

  • As few ingredients as possible. “Make sure the powder doesn’t contain more than seven to 10 ingredients,” Komar advises.

  • No added sugar. If you choose a sweetened protein powder, look for one that contains monk fruit, coconut sugar or stevia. Avoid other artificial sweeteners.

  • No hydrogenated oils. Some formulas sneak in unhealthy oils, which can cause inflammation in the body.

  • Recognizable ingredients. “If you have a hard time pronouncing the ingredient names, that may be a sign to look for another option,” she says.

“Also, don’t get pulled in by advertisements that state the protein powder has ‘added ingredients’ that will promote even more muscle growth,” she cautions. “The price is normally inflated and these brands sometimes use misleading or false advertising.”

When in doubt, talk to your healthcare provider to see if protein powder is right for you.

Learn more about nutrition from Piedmont experts.

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