How to Choose Your Protein Powders and Health Supplements Wisely
BY SOPHIE CHUNG
Nutritionist, Kate Irvine, helps us differentiate the subpar from the crème de la crème.
23 DEC - 2021
Have you ever wondered about the synthetic ingredients that you’re ingesting into the body?
If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll know we take our skincare seriously. The beauty industry is a rabbit hole of, to put it mildly, questionable ingredients and practices. And since ingestible beauty is growing with phenomenal force, we’ve been looking into the nitty gritty of the nutraceutical industry.
You may have never questioned your health supplements before but considering it’s something we’re putting into our bodies on a daily basis, it’s probably a good idea to vet it and understand the basics of how these products are created.
To absolutely no surprise at all, the nutraceutical industry, much the same as the cosmetic industry, employs a bunch of antiquated marketing hacks like the use of white labelled products with clever branding, using complicated terminologies to confuse and disempower the consumer and hidden ingredients that aren't as healthy as the labels suggest.
I get that we live in a democratic and capitalistic society, but is it really necessary to make terrible products with a cute label full of empty promises? Who is this for? What value does this add to people’s lives? At first, the whole system is enraging, but with some sleuthing, there is always a way for people to find out the truth.
We talk to Nutritionist, Kate Irvine, to help us deep dive into the world of nutraceuticals and share with us the health products that we can trust.
Product packaging - What do we need to look out for?
Companies are given a lot of leeway to make vague and misleading claims on product packaging. From sugar content to artificial sweeteners and a variety of miscellaneous chemicals, have you ever wondered about the synthetic ingredients that you’re ingesting into the body?
“Cliff Harvey, many many moons ago, once taught me, “if man made it, don’t eat it.” And I think that applies to things like this. When we are working with packaged products, we want them to be as close to whole foods as we can,” Kate says.
In the first steps of vetting your product, the basic rule to remember is that the devil of the detail is revealed in the nutrition panel - this is where you find your truth. It’s also important to note that the ingredients are ordered in predominance from the biggest amount to the smallest.
When it comes to artificial sweeteners that tend to upset the gut and microbiome, look out for any words in the ingredients that end with ‘-tol.’ For example, maltitol, although it is considered to be a safe sugar alternative, has been known to cause stomach pains, gas, and depending on how much you have, can act as a laxative and prompt diarrhea. Other sugar alcohols include erythritol, sorbitol and xylitol. The issue is that they are considered to be low-digestible carbohydrates (LDCs) and as you can imagine, is a major stressor to the gut and can cause a variety of unpleasant effects.
The main thing is to really understand what it is that are on these labels and the effects they have on the body. Look up any ingredients you don’t know on PubMed or other credible sources via Google Scholar. “When I was first getting into nutrition, it would take me an extra hour at the supermarket and my partner would say, “I’m never coming to the supermarket with you again!” I would stand there in the aisles with my phone and look up any ingredients that I didn’t know to individually check what it was and its effects on the body.”
“I always like to think, the prettier it is on the outside, and the more numbers on the back, the more sceptical I’d be. My biggest advice would be to really understand those labels and start to research things. Because if you don’t know what it is, let alone pronounce it or spell it, that would be a really big concern for me,” Kate says.
How do we decipher the quality of a protein powder?
“Whether you’re sitting on a plant based protein or a whey based protein, the number one question is, how does it feel in your body? How does it digest in your stomach? Does it make you feel bloated? Have you got gas?” Everyone has their own unique biochemistry and it’s a matter of trialling and testing to find out what’s right for you. “Just because a friend or celebrity has the product, it doesn’t mean that it will be a good fit for you.” Trust your body and the instant biofeedback you receive after ingesting the product.
If both plant and whey -based protein powders sit well with you, then having a mixture of both is fine. However, having excess amounts of whey inside our bodies is completely unnecessary and as mentioned before, artificial sweeteners are considered to be a no no, which is something that is present in every whey protein powder. They’re manufactured to stimulate your taste buds to keep you coming back for more. Kate explains, “what tends to happen is your blood sugar levels get spiked at a rapid rate and then drop. This interrupts the digestive system and the process of the actual protein coming into the body.” We want to be able to naturally absorb our protein as if it is a whole food.
Another thing to note is the company and their values. Take a step back and evaluate what kind of company it is that you’re buying from. “So many companies will sell really poor quality products and launch something that claims to be vegan and plant-based and all these great things - they’re just trying to draw you in.” Due to the demand for an alternative source other than whey, companies are creating equally poor quality products with a new edge to cater for the market.
If you can’t find products with straightforward ingredients labels, reach out to them via email or phone. “No question is a silly question, only the ones you don’t ask,” Kate says. “If they really care about their consumers and clients and have nothing to hide, they will answer your questions through and through. I think many people don’t tend to ring companies because they assume the companies won’t tell them anything. But it’s their job to answer our questions.”
Here is an easy rule of thumb to go by - steer clear of any protein powders that cost less than $100 for a 2kg tub. You’re probably surprised as most protein powders would come under this umbrella. “When the price is ridiculously cheap, there’s a reason for that,” Kate says. “To source a high quality ingredient like golden pea isolate, it would be a big cost to the big company. That company is not going to be giving away products that are not in profit to them. I’d say to be cautious around too good to be true sales when it comes to these things,” she says.
What happens when we ingest artificial sweeteners long term?
Although the first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was discovered in 1879, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when they became popular due to the ‘health & fitness’ trend. Some of the main sweeteners you would have heard of is Aspartame; which launched as ‘Equal’; Neotame, the newest sweetener on the market with FDA approval in 2002; Acesulfame a.k.a. Ace-K, which passes through your system unchanged by processes; heat-stable Sucralose, the key ingredient in Splenda; and finally, the aforementioned sugar alcohols that end with ‘-tol’ which can create a laxative effect.
“You’ve got to remember that you have trillions of cells within your body that are trying to communicate to each other. When these foreign substances come into the body, it upsets the balance of the gut bacteria and starts to slow things down a bit,” Kate says. “Over time, we can experience things like leaky gut, when it actually starts to break down the cell walls and starts to come into the bloodstream. This is in very extreme cases and it would often take a prolonged use of these products, but predominantly, it causes inflammation, indigestion, gas and bloating.”
Kate’s go-to health brand
“For me, Nuzest sits really well. It felt really good inside my body and I could feel a difference in recovery from when I was training and competing many years ago. I’ve tried and tested so many green powders, probably all of them in the market and I still come back to Nuzest. They’re a company who are invested in the quality of their ingredients and continuously improving their products. Also, Nuzest is so transparent. Over the years, I’ve asked them for testing and information and they are there at an absolute heartbeat,” Kate says.
“When it comes to protein powder, Nuzest uses golden pea protein isolate from France, so not only is it absorbed into the muscles a lot quicker but the sourcing of it is really pure,” Kate continues. “Now, often we see pea protein, brown rice protein or pumpkin protein but it’s the sourcing of these ingredients that matter. Were they made in a factory? Are they truly organic?” The word ‘organic’ gets thrown around a lot but it’s crazy to think that American companies only require 1% of the ingredient to be organic, to label itself that.
Not only is the sourcing clean, the entire supply chain is eco-friendly. Firstly, peas are classified as a sustainable crop as they add nitrogen back into the soil and also use less water to grow. They are then transported to a low carbon footprint company in Belgium where the protein isolation process takes place via a water-based extraction process as opposed to typical processes that involve chemicals and high temperatures that do not retain the nutritive qualities of plants. The water from the isolation process is purified and recycled while the pea residue is turned into animal feed and biofuel. All the processes thereafter to get your product to your door, from packaging to courier packaging and also the couriers Nuzest use, are with a sustainable objective in mind.