Our brains are so conditioned to alarming news headlines like these they hardly even register anymore. But when you hear of a friend of a friend being rushed to the ER, and the culprit was her protein powder of all things, you start paying attention. Society today thrives on quick fixes, and protein powders are an easy way to get the right amount of protein without having to think about how many grams of meat, dairy, or beans you eat each day. But most people are not aware that the supplement industry is not regulated and there’s no requirement to disclose all ingredients on the labels. As consumers we tend to blindly trust what is being printed on that label, putting our lives and health in the hands of strangers and large companies.  

The Clean Label Project, a nonprofit focused on transparency in consumer product labeling, works to educate the public on the dangers of toxins in our products and their adverse effects. Earlier this year they completed a study of over a 130 protein powder products from 52 brands and screened for over 130 toxins including BPA and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. They took the top-selling products that were animal-based, whey, and plant-based and had them tested by a third party chemistry laboratory for contaminants. The data was analyzed by a team of statisticians, food safety scientists, epidemiologists, and registered dietitians before being published.

Fifty-three out of the 130+ brands were found to have “substantially elevated” levels of: arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, and BPA. Fifty-five percent of powders that were tested had noticeable levels of BPA and twenty-eight of the 130+ powders contained double the regulatory limit of 3 micrograms of BPA. One protein powder contained more than twenty times the allowed level of BPA in just one serving. Shockingly, the protein powders that were plant-based had higher levels of heavy metals than the non-plant-based protein powders, putting vegetarians and vegans at higher risk of health issues. The reason protein powders contain so many contaminants is because the plants used in these powders absorb the toxins in the soil. The worst offenders were the organic powders, which goes to show even a certified label cannot be trusted.

So how should you be taking your protein each day? Harvard Medical School recommends that you: Aim for the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein intake: 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams for men.

Here is an example of what 46 grams of protein in one day looks like:

  • One egg for breakfast
  • For lunch, have a cup of plain greek yogurt
  • Grab a handful of nuts for a snack
  • 4 ounces of cooked chicken for dinner

Several companies released statements after these findings. The statements were underwhelming and don’t really address the findings by the Clean Label Project. As consumers, we should demand that these companies are more honest about what ingredients are in their products. Vega released a statement that can be read here.  Purely Inspired released a statement as well and can be read here. Sunwarrior released a statement as well. What do you think about the ingredients found in protein powders?