Are Protein Powders Paleo?
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Are Protein Powders Paleo? image

Reviewed by Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., on March 23, 2022

Whether you’re recovering from a hard workout or just need an energy boost, protein powders are a convenient way to get more protein into your diet. But are they Paleo?

The answer is that it depends. A key factor of The Paleo Diet is avoiding processed foods and let’s face it, most protein powders and shakes go through a rigorous process to be produced.

While some protein powders can be fine some of the time, many are made with non-Paleo ingredients and contain sugars and additives that can be unhealthy.

As always, getting your protein from whole foods such as eggs, meats, and some nuts and seeds is always preferable. However, if you’re in a pinch and want to add some extra protein to your diet, certain protein powders can be okay in moderation.

Read on to learn how to choose a Paleo-approved protein powder, and why you might want to use some in the first place.

Why do we need protein?

First, it’s important to know why we need protein in our diets. Protein plays a vital role in our overall health. Our skin, organs, immune system, muscles, and hormones all need protein to function properly.

Sadly, many of us are not getting enough. In fact, the typical Western diet is about 15% protein, where a healthier ratio is somewhere in the 20-35% range.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. While you can get them from some plant-based foods, animal proteins are the best sources. The protein we get from animals, like meat and eggs, are more bioavailable than plant-based sources. Animal sources also provide higher amounts of the amino acid leucine, which regulates cellular processes such as protein synthesis, tissue regeneration, and metabolism. [1]

How to find Paleo-friendly protein powders

When shopping for protein powders, be sure to read the labels carefully. Many are made with whey and casein, which are dairy proteins and off-limits on The Paleo Diet. The lactose found in dairy products can cause insulin resistance, which contributes to a myriad of issues ranging from acne to certain types of cancer. [2]

You’ll also want to make sure to steer clear of protein powders made with grains or other non-Paleo ingredients, like peas, rice, or quinoa.

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Added sugars are another common ingredient you’ll want to avoid. They can be listed as cane sugar, sucralose, aspartame, erythritol, sorbitol, and xylitol, so be sure to read labels carefully to make sure you’re getting a true sugar-free product.

In order to be truly Paleo, a protein powder should be from a high-quality protein source and as clean and natural as possible. Good protein sources include egg whites, collagen peptides, and beef protein isolate. Hemp seeds would also be okay as an ingredient, although it’s not ideal to have them as the main protein source as they contain some anti-nutrients.

You’ll also want to look for flavorless varieties, unless the added flavor is made from pure cacao or vanilla. Tip: You can always buy flavorless if you aren’t sure about the added ingredients, and add a drop or two of vanilla or almond extract yourself to give your protein shakes a little extra flavor.

How to use protein powder

Are Protein Powders Paleo? image

Don’t feel limited to protein shakes! You can add a scoop to a cup of coffee, or mix them in with your favorite homemade energy bar recipe.

Try adding a serving to any of these recipes to up your protein even more:

The bottom line

If you’re looking to add more protein to your diet, it is always best to get it from whole foods, like grass-fed meat and organic eggs. If you really want to use a protein powder, be sure to stick with a brand that uses clean ingredients with no added sugar, and protein sourced from collagen peptides or eggs instead of whey and casein. Remember, it’s best to use supplements as that – supplemental to a healthy whole food diet.

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  1. Paddon-Jones D, Campbell WW, Jacques PF, Kritchevsky SB, Moore LL, Rodriguez NR, van Loon LJ. Protein and healthy aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;101(6):1339S-1345S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.084061. Epub 2015 Apr 29. PMID: 25926511.
  2. Tucker LA, Erickson A, LeCheminant JD, Bailey BW. Dairy consumption and insulin resistance: the role of body fat, physical activity, and energy intake. J Diabetes Res. 2015;2015:206959. doi: 10.1155/2015/206959. Epub 2015 Jan 29. PMID: 25710041; PMCID: PMC4325471.

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