The search for the best whey protein powder on the market can be exhausting. Local supplement stores have their shelves lined with shiny-labeled products that advertise benefits that sound miraculous. To help wade through the world of unscrupulous marketing and better understand what goes into making a high-quality whey protein we’ve created this no-nonsense whey protein buyer’s guide.
You train hard. You eat right. You even make sure your sleep habits are on point. You do everything in your power to be the best version of yourself, but can you say the same for your supplements? It’s easy to fall into the marketer’s trap of qualifying whey protein powder supplements by flavor and price alone. A five-pound container of Chocolate-covered-truffle-cake whey for $5.99 might look tempting, but we’re here to tell you: it’s probably a bad choice.
Understanding the different types of whey protein powder, how processing affects overall quality and bioavailability, and understanding the importance of third-party testing will help you find a whey protein powder that will give you the best support possible. This guide will help to explain each of these considerations as well as several other points of concern.
Types of Whey Protein
Each year there are nearly 200 million tons of whey protein produced globally which accounts for a market analysts project to hit $13.5 billion by 2020 (R). That’s a lot of protein powder. With all that powder floating around on the consumer market there is a stark shortage of understanding in the differences of production methods commonly used and types of whey protein. Below you’ll find a brief overview of the two most popular forms, whey concentrate, and whey isolate.
One of the first steps in the production of whey protein is to collect it in its liquid form. This form, a common by-product of the production of foods such as cheese and yogurts, is around 80% protein by weight. The remaining ingredients are mostly carbohydrates and fats (R). Whey concentrate is cheaper to produce and is likelier to retain natural cofactors but contains higher non-protein nutritional content.
Whey Protein Isolate
Some manufacturers prefer to increase the protein content and remove the carbohydrates and fat to create what we know as whey protein isolate. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the processes required to do so denature the protein and destroy several important nutrients. Both types of whey protein have their benefits, but you’ll need to decide which aspects are most important for you.
Cold-Processed Whey Isolate
If you want quality, look for cold-processed (sometimes called cold-pressed). This whey protein is exactly what it sounds like – protein that has been processed without exposure to high temperatures. Since pasteurization is required for all dairy products in the United States, whey protein does, of course, need to be subjected to heat.
However, while the FDA minimum is 160℉, most manufacturers choose to pasteurize their whey protein at 200℉ or higher (R). While this temperature difference may seem small, 200℉ is high enough to denature amino acids, decreasing their bioavailability for absorption. Some manufacturers forego high-heat processing but instead process their whey with acid or bleach. Different idea, same result – denatured, lower-quality protein.
All cows eat grass, right? Most commercial cows these days are actually fed mostly corn and other grains. These are often of the GMO variety or treated with chemicals and pesticides such as glyphosate. Meanwhile, grass-fed cows avoid exposure to GMO’s and chemicals by simply eating their natural diet – grass. As a result, grass-fed cows yield products (such as our Naked Whey) with more beneficial omega-3 acids and conjugated linoleic fatty acids (CLA) and less saturated fat. Not only will you get a better nutritional profile from our grass-fed whey, but you’ll also be helping to encourage better farming practices among dairy farmers – a win-win for any health-conscious, environmentally-friendly protein lover.
Your supplements don’t need GMO’s, artificial sweeteners, or other chemicals, and we get that. That’s why all our grass-fed whey is third-party tested, sourced from small U.S. dairy farms which are also important, as it cuts down on our carbon footprint. If you love the environment, finding a high-quality, domestically-produced supplement is like finding gold.
Heavy Metals Testing
When you look at the ingredients list on your favorite supplements, you don’t expect to see things like arsenic, lead, and cadmium, right? Well, the truth is that you won’t find them on the label, but that doesn’t mean they’re not lurking in your protein powder. Several studies took a deeper look at popular whey protein powders and found relatively high levels of toxic heavy metals in more than a few. So, how does this happen? It typically has to do with pollution and poor living conditions for the cows the whey is sourced from, as well as poor processing practices. To avoid buying supplements with these toxic metals, choose a high-quality product, and avoid purchasing from China if possible, as a high percentage of whey sourced there tends to be polluted.
Other Dangerous Ingredients
A few of the biggest culprits to look out for include hormones (such as rBST and rBGH), preservatives, anti-caking agents, artificial dyes, flavorings, and artificial sweeteners. Additionally, some manufacturers will attempt to improve poor-quality whey protein by adding amino acids back in (sometimes under the brand name Aminogen). Although this process is not dangerous, it does imply low quality.
NOTE: For an in-depth guide on supplement quality check out the article: GMP: Understanding Quality Guidelines for Supplement Manufacturing
So, with all the different products and information out there, how are you supposed actually to make a decision and buy something? It can get complicated trying to weigh your priorities and determine which product you feel the best about purchasing. We’ve distilled the information discussed here into an easy-to-remember list to help guide your next purchase:
- Rule #1: Fewer ingredients is better. Protein products with only 1 to 3 ingredients have nothing to hide, and you’ll know that you’ve found the good stuff.
- Rule #2: If there are more than a few ingredients, look at them individually. Are they things that belong in your supplement? If you’re not sure what certain things are doing on the ingredient list, the supplement probably isn’t a high-quality one.
- Rule #3: Ignore the marketing. Pick and choose your battles when it comes to ingredients in the products you use and, in the end, select the product that has the best ingredients, not based on marketing or over the top claims, but what makes the most sense and works best for you.
Did You Enjoy This Article?
Here at the Organic Newsroom, we work hard to help you get the information you need to navigate health and nutrition topics with confidence. Naked Nutrition is one of the most-respected protein powder brands in the world and has unique insight into what it takes to create quality whey protein. If you enjoyed this article please let us know by taking the time to rate it below.