Could Some Protein Powders be Hazardous to Your Health?

Protein powders have become a dietary staple for many people trying to build muscle, lose weight or get sufficient nutrition on the go. But are consumers getting more ingredients than they bargained for?

A study of protein powdersOff Site Icon by the nonprofit Clean Label Project detected potentially harmful substances in 133 protein powders tested. Study results identified concerning levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead, plus toxins like bisphenol A (BPA) that are found in some plastic containers and food can liners. High levels have been linked to cancer, fertility issues and even brain damage.

“A lot of consumers don’t realize that dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA,” says Premier Health clinical dietitian Meredith Jones, RDN, LD. In fact, the companies making protein powders aren’t required to prove that they are safe, that they contain the ingredients listed on their labels or that they work as advertised.

Jones continues, “People assume they’re safe, but typically no one is double-checking these supplements. I’m glad we have product-safety organizations like Clean Label looking at these products.”

Jones would like more information on Clean Label’s rating system. “It sounds scary, but lots of our foods have small amounts of these ingredients. It’s the dose that makes the poison. I’d like to see their numbers compared to known toxic levels,” she says.

The companies making protein powders aren’t required to prove that they are safe, that they contain the ingredients listed on their labels or that they work as advertised.

Best and Worst Protein Powders

Overall, Jones acknowledges Clean Label’s protein powder rating system gives people a starting point to select the purest product. “You probably don’t have any worries in using the top-rated products they’ve listed.”

The nonprofit organization had an independent lab measure nutritional value and amounts of heavy metals, pesticides and contaminants like BPA. Clean Label then gave each product an overall score. Metals accounted for 60 percent of the total score because of their potential for harm. 

The five most highly rated protein powders tested were:

Protein Powders small
  • Pure Protein Vanilla Cream 100% Whey
  • Performix Pro Whey Sabor Vanilla Protein with Amino Beads
  • BodyFortress Super Advanced Vanilla 100% Whey Protein
  • BioChem Vanilla 100% Whey Protein
  • Puori PW1 Vanilla Pure Whey Protein

Clean Label’s bottom five products were:

  • Garden of Life Organic Shake & Meal Replacement Chocolate Cacao Raw Organic Meal
  • Nature’s Best Isopure Creamy Vanilla Zero Carb
  • Quest Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder
  • 360Cut Performance Supplements 360PRO Whey Chocolate Silk Premium Whey Protein
  • Vega Sport Plant-Based Vanilla Performance Protein

Check It Out Yourself

Jones also encourages you to do your own research:

  • Call the product’s consumer relations number and ask for a copy of the product’s accredited laboratory report. Ask if they use their own lab or an independent lab. “If they can’t produce that for you or give you the run-around, I would stay away,” Jones says.
  • Read a Better Business Bureau report or reviews from consumers.
  • Check for product recalls.

Jones uses protein powder herself. She says, “I’m usually on the go and use it as a convenience after a cycling class. For my clients, I mostly recommend it as a convenience factor once a day or twice a day at most.”

However, she wouldn’t choose protein powders over food sources of protein. “There’s so much more to the whole food than whatever goes into the pill or powder,” she says. “Typically, your body benefits more from eating the whole food than the supplement. Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, beans, peas, walnuts, almonds and peanut butter are easy protein sources.” 

Meredith Jones, RDN, LD

Meredith Jones, RDN, LD

Small Steps: Change your future with fiber.
Fruits and vegetables are important at any age, and especially as we enter our 40s. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals – and fiber, which can protect against heart disease and some cancers.