Protein Power in a Powder

Protein powders—designed to be mixed with water for an easy, protein-rich beverage—used to be found only in gigantic cans at the gym and were targeted towards body builders looking to “bulk up.” But these days you can find powdered protein in any grocery store, and it’s marketed for gaining or losing weight, vegan or carnivorous diets, and even managing your diet with a busy lifestyle. Protein powders are basically dehydrated forms of the protein found in foods. The most common come from milk (whey or casein), egg whites, or soy, and protein content ranges from 10-30 grams (g) per serving. (Recommended daily protein amount for adult women is 46 g/day; for men, 56 g.)

Ultimately, the most ideal way to meet your nutrient needs is to consume a diet comprised of a variety of whole foods from all the food groups. However, there are situations that make that strategy difficult. For example, if you have a low appetite and are struggling to meet your protein needs through food alone, adding protein powder to beverages or foods, such as oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, or muffin batter, can help supplement your diet.

Helpful hints. Here are some tips for choosing the right protein powder, should you decide to try one. Most important, don’t give up food. These powders are meant to supplement your meals, not replace them. Continue to eat a variety of foods as you incorporate protein into drinks or food.

  • Basic is better. Choose those made with real food ingredients, such as whey, egg whites, and cocoa, and avoid those with a laundry list of ingredients you may not recognize, such as carrageenan and artificial sweeteners.
  • Understand the extras. Some powders give you more than just protein. Some contain green powders—isolated phytonutrients from dark green vegetables, probiotics to nurture your gut microflora, and added vitamins and minerals. Limit your intake to the amount recommended on the label to avoid more than the recommended daily amount (see page 4, “Use Caution with Fortified Foods”).
  • Simple substitution. Non-fat dry milk powder is a nutritious, affordable alternative. It can be added to smoothies, shakes, or casseroles. One-third cup contains 80 calories, 0 g fat, 8 g protein, and 125 milligrams sodium.

—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD

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