Protein powders became all the rage recently, along with low-carb diets to help lose weight, gain muscle or tone. Some aspects of supplements have definitely proven to be successful in some cases, stopping your appetite from winning the will power battle when trying to lose weight, but what is this product really made of and how do we know they are safe?
We spoke to expert nutritionist, Cyndi O’Meara of Changing Habits, about what we should be looking for, what we should avoid, and how we can get the right type of proteins for long-term health benefits.
RESCU: Once upon a time protein powders were the domain of body building blokes only. These days many women are using protein powders to supplement their diet. Who should be using protein powders and are there different types that women specifically should look out for?
Cyndi O’Meara: I’m not a huge fan of protein powders, especially the ones with additives, preservatives, flavours, artificial sweeteners and dubious ingredients. Of the protein powders; whey and soy seem to be the most popular, each of these either come as a concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate. All are processed and may have other additives not listed on the ingredient list such as canola oil and soya lecithin (these may be Genetically Modified) Soy which could possibly be GM, is high in oestrogenic properties and I don’t advise it for men or women. Firstly because men don’t need any oestrogen and women are already oestrogen dominant. Whey may be ok but it depends on whether the person taking the WPC is allergic to casein or lactose and then also the quality of the whey and what other ingredients and additives the manufacture adds. Other alternatives would then be rice, hemp or inca inchi.
RESCU: It’s easy to assume all protein powders are made equal and will boost our health – can you tell us a little about why this might not be the case?
Cyndi O’Meara: No, not all proteins are equal. A protein surrounded with vitamins, minerals and other macro nutrients such as fat and carbohydrates, naturally together in real food is more likely to be utilised by the body. For instance, you can absorb 98% of an eggs protein, yet only 60% of meats protein. When we look at powders we have to look at many factors including how much we can absorb and utilise and everyone is different, therefore it will differ with individuals. But the way I see it, the closer to nature the protein is the more our evolutionary bodies will be able to identify and use. For example the Inca Inchi is a seed that has had the oil taken from it through cold pressing to produce a natural protein with a 64% content, all readily available for the absorption and use by the body.
RESCU: What should we look out for on the label to decipher whether or not we are making a healthy choice with our protein powder?
Cyndi O’Meara: First thing to look at is the ingredients (not the nutritional label). The ingredients will tell you whether the food is a real food or just a bunch of additives. If you can identify it as real food then the next step is to look at the protein source. If it is an isolate, concentrate or hydrolysate you know that it has gone through many processes in order to get there and has been created in a laboratory as opposed a kitchen.
RESCU: Is there anything else we should keep in mind when taking protein supplements to ensure our bodies are reaping the benefits without any side effects?
Cyndi O’Meara: If you eat a junk food diet and take protein supplements, the diet is still a junk food diet. When looking at using the protein that you eat to build not only muscles but all the other functions where amino acids are required you must eat a real food diet. Our bodies have eaten evolutionary food for 1000’s of generations, these new foods it does not identify and therefore has trouble using, thus the increase in sickness and illness and injuries amongst many athletes.
RESCU: What’s the best time of day to have a protein supplement?
Cyndi O’Meara: I’m often asked what should I eat the night before a race; my stock question back is what training will you do the night before the race. The answer is usually, I’ve been training for the past year for this marathon or competition. My answer back is then what you eat the night before is not as important as what you have eaten the year leading up to the race. When to eat protein (before or after a workout) is much the same, when you eat the right foods and your body is functioning at its best then the timing of when you eat protein is not as important. Your body and intelligence will let you know. For instance if you had protein before you worked out and it didn’t sit well and you didn’t workout well then you know as an individual that maybe you shouldn’t do it. There is no stock answer it is about what feels right for you.
RESCU: Can protein supplements assist with weight loss?
Cyndi O’Meara: The whole issue is not to consider weight loss but rather consider health gain, then as you gain health the weight will shift. If we are seeking health then go back to question 1 and only eat natural protein powders rather than protein powders laced with food like ingredients, like additives, preservatives, flavourings, artificial sweeteners and other dubious ingredients. Look at the whole issue of eating rather then – can a protein supplement assist in weight loss. If someone is eating a junk food diet and taking protein supplements then my answer is NO
RESCU: Are there any risks associated with having too much protein in the diet?
Cyndi O’Meara: Consuming vast amounts of protein powders laced with additives can be very detrimental to health. The protein creates an acidic environment in the body and most diseases will thrive in this environment. Proteins must be balanced with carbohydrates and fats.
RESCU: Finally, is there one simple, fail safe rule we can follow to ensure we’re ingesting the right kind of protein?
Cyndi O’Meara: Fail safe for me is to make sure you are eating a protein that has been least processed. Raw egg, raw fish, nuts, seeds (inca inchi), meat are all wonderful sources of protein, these are failsafe for the majority of people (of course people with allergies these will not be failsafe) With regards to protein powders use the one that has been least processed such as the inca inchi.
For more information visit changinghabits.com.au