Is protein powder paleo? And what kind should I use? These two questions are very common in the paleo community, however the answers are not as black and white as you would want them to be…as is with most things in the paleo world.
Let’s recap. Paleo is all about eating real food that has gone through as little processing as possible. We try to avoid chemicals, additives, preservatives, refined sugar, hydrogenated oils and the list goes on. To extract protein from the real foods that contain them, the manufacturers have to go through a certain amount of processing. They would then combine that protein with a bunch of other ingredients in order to make the powder which you pop in your blender to make a green protein smoothie. We can all agree that the egg white protein powder is not the same as the egg white in your scrambled eggs; the whey protein powder is not the same as eating a piece of beef or fish; and the hemp or pea protein powder is not the same as eating fresh garden peas.
Looking at protein powders this way you might argue that it’s not real food and it’s not paleo. But what about olive oil or coconut oil? Bottles of EVO don’t grow on trees, someone actually has to extract the oil out of the fruit before it ends up in your salad dressing. Tapioca flour or coconut sugar also go through a certain amount of processing before they can be packaged for purchase and consumption. What I am getting at is that the protein powders, like many other processed products we still safely consume on a paleo diet, are not created equal. When determining whether you should add protein powder to your pantry staples and which type you should choose, there are a few factors to consider. That’s why I’ve put together this simple guide to paleo friendly protein powders. I’ve collated information from multiple sources and I am certainly not THE protein experts so please let me know if anything is incorrect or unclear and I’ll do my best to follow up.
When protein powders are useful
I always recommend getting protein from real food as much as possible – stocking up on eggs, fish, chicken, seafood, beef jerky, some nuts and seeds, and even dairy for those who can tolerate it. Our vego friends might have to add things like green peas, safer grains like white rice and pseudo-grains like buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth (soaked, sprouted and fermented if possible to deactivate the antinutrients) to the mix. However, there are times when people will benefit from having a good protein powder on hand.
- When you need extra protein (training for a rock-climbing comp?) and you feel like something different to the foods I mentioned above – we all want a little variety.
- When you’re too busy to prepare a protein rich meal or you didn’t stock up on protein rich foods and you get caught out – that’s when a protein shake or a smoothie is a great addition.
- When you need something high in protein on-the-go like homemade protein bliss balls or a protein bar (check out our recipe for protein bars here).
- When you want a protein rich breakfast (as you should) but you need a break from eggs, meat or seafood – having a protein smoothie or some protein pancakes might be a good choice.
- When you’re having issues chewing or swallowing food (wisdom teeth anyone?).
- When, like me, you simply want to be more sustainable and eat a little less meat. I do ‘meat-free days’ or a ‘meat-free meal’ regularly and that’s when a good protein powder comes in handy.