Your Protein Powder Ingredients: What to Look For & the Risks

Credit: Wikimedia, Sandstein

Credit: Wikimedia, Sandstein

Whether you’re slugging protein powder before/after your workout or you’re too rushed in the morning to sit down to eggs, it’s important to know what’s in the gigantic tub, beyond “protein, man.”

When it comes to choosing protein powders, Kathleen Bundy, a Registered Dietician and one of our nutritionists on staff at WellnessFX, advocates they should always be of the highest quality and free of most additives (sweeteners, flavors, etc.).

Why? Because it can be all too easy to take the claims and marketing boasts at face-value and overlook ingredients and the possible toll they can take on your overall health.

What are some of the common ingredients to look for and what are their potential impacts on your health?

Protein powder: What Ingredients to Look For + Risks Associated

Additives in protein powders are there for different reasons. Some products use them to enhance the flavor, mix-ability, texture, longevity, convenience to transport, or just bulk the product up to make it cheaper to produce for the manufacturer – think popular lines like Muscle Milk, Apex, and Vi. When reading labels, it’s valuable to know that ingredients are typically listed in the order of the highest amount used in the product to the least amount.

Aspartame and Sucralose – Sucralose is sometimes sold under the name of Splenda, and both are sweeteners that contain no calories (that could be a potential reason for the inclusion – adding taste without changing the calorie composition for concerned macro trackers) and are sweeter than sugar. A recent study cited by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found a link between sucralose and leukemia in mice, and prompted the center to change its safety rating of sucralose from “Safe” to “Avoid.” Regarding Aspartame, a study published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” in 2007 found that long-term exposure to low doses of aspartame increased cancer in rats.

Maltodextrin – Maltodextrin is an artificial sugar that has a mild, sweet taste. It’s also known as a polysaccharide, or chain of sugars, and is created by applying acids or other enzymes to cornstarch. Maltodextrin is actually a term that applies to any starch hydrolysis product containing fewer than 20 glucose units. For this reason, maltodextrin refers to a family of products rather than one specific product.

According to, the consumption of maltodextrin has side effects and health risks similar to most food additives. These include allergic reactions, unexplained weight gain, bloating, and flatulence. Specific allergic reactions include rash, asthma, itching, and difficulty breathing. Wheat-derived maltodextrin may pose health concerns for individuals with celiac disease because it contains gluten. However, in most cases the maltodextrin production process completely removes the protein from the wheat resulting in a gluten-free wheat-derived maltodextrin.

Soy Lecithin – This additive is extracted from soybeans, either mechanically or chemically, using hexane. It’s actually a byproduct of soybean oil production. According to WebMD, it can cause side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, or fullness. According to a study from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, soy lecithin has been linked to negative effects on fertility and reproduction. A study reported by Cornell University observed links to a promotion in the risk of cancer.

Xanthan Gum – Xanthan Gum is made by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria. Xanthan Gum can be derived from a variety of sources such as corn, wheat, and soy. Individuals with an allergy to such sources should avoid foods containing Xanthan Gum. As a carbohydrate with 7 grams of fiber per tablespoon, it may also cause bloating in some people.

Bottom line

As always, we advocate educating yourself and reading labels to stay informed – hopefully this post equipped you with some tools necessary to make more informed decisions, whether that means smarter picks at the grocery store or transitioning to eat less processed foods in general. The choice is yours.

If you are interested in a more in-depth conversation regarding nutrition and what works for your individual biochemistry, you can schedule a 20-minute consultation with a WellnessFX practitioner. They can then give you tailored recommendations based on your biomarkers.

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.