Common Whey Protein Ingredients to Avoid
When you buy a whey protein supplement you probably have some pretty clear expectations. For starters, you probably aren’t looking for a long list of ingredients. After all, whey protein should logically only include one thing: whey protein.
And yet, this is very rarely the case. Since whey is naturally almost flavorless, powder manufacturers add all sorts of things to manipulate the flavor and appearance of the final product. Of course, other additives – like preservatives or anti-caking agents – are also commonly thrown into the mix. But what are these ingredients? While it’s impossible to catalog every possible ingredient that you might find in a whey protein supplement, let’s take a look at a few of the more common additives you should avoid.
Sweeteners and Flavorings
Whether they are natural or artificial, sweeteners of all sorts have received a lot of bad press recently. And, frankly, there’s a good reason for this: They aren’t great for you.
First, let’s focus on the natural sweeteners that are commonly in whey powders. Regardless of their source, most of these sweeteners are treated by your body in roughly the same way: They are recognized as carbohydrates, causing a spike in insulin and a subsequent drop in blood sugar. While this isn’t also a bad thing, some people may choose to follow a diet that aims to limit this insulin response. Or it could simply be a matter of trying to manage your macronutrient intake – which would be difficult if your protein is supplying some sly carbs.
But then there are the artificial sweeteners, many of which are actually calorie-free. Because of this, people generally consider artificial sweeteners as safe. Modern research, though, has linked these products (saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose have all been FDA-approved) with diabetes, obesity and certain forms of cancer.
When it comes to flavorings and flavor enhancers, though, things get much more complicated because so many ingredients have been approved for use by the FDA. Very commonly, you will simply see “natural and artificial flavorings” listed on an ingredients list – this should be worrying. Legally manufacturers are not required to list absolutely every ingredient they use for flavorings and any number of things could be hidden in your whey protein. Even among the safe-sounding natural ingredients you’ll find things like fluid extracted from the anal glands of beavers (castoreum), crushed beetles, and derivatives of human hair or duck feathers.
Certain ingredients may also be added to inferior products as a way of improving their nutrition content. For example, heavily processed or low-quality whey powders will include less protein and therefore few amino acids. To get around this, amino acids are added back in – sometimes under the brand name Aminogen. While there is technically no danger associated with this process, it does denote a low-quality product. And you want the best.
You may also see the incredibly adaptable disodium phosphate – which makes appearances in everything from cleaning products to pesticides. This ingredient not only improves the flavor of foods but it also works as a thickener and anti-caking agent. Unfortunately, disodium phosphate can also sap calcium from your system and aggravate certain serious conditions like asthma and gout.
One ingredient that is in nearly everything – not just whey protein – is lecithin, usually of the soy variety. Traditionally derived from eggs, lecithin improves the texture of foods and is also used in cooking sprays. For cost reasons, though, lecithin is now taken from the soy bean. Soy itself has been controversial for several years, having been linked to certain forms of cancer and thyroid dysfunction. Soy lecithin, though, has also been shown to increase the risk of behavioral and neurochemical problems in children of mothers who ate high amounts of it during pregnancy. Granted, this particular study was conducted in rats but the research still raises concerns.
Again, these are only a few of the unsavory ingredients typically added to whey protein supplements. To be completely clear of them – and others – stick with products that have as few ingredients as possible.
Naked Nutrition products are proud to only contain easily understandable ingredients, and all of our protein powders include only one ingredient. Naked Whey stands by the fact that we add nothing to our whey protein, it’s simply too good to burden down with unnecessary ingredients.