The Power of Protein Powders

By Susan Epstein, MS, RD, CDN

Protein supplements are very important to Bariatric Surgery patients. After surgery, the stomach is so small that it becomes a challenge consuming adequate protein through the foods you eat. As a result, protein shakes are an excellent way to get the protein you need. The problem is that there are literally dozens of protein shakes to choose from. This article will explain some terms that you may come across that describe proteins. It will then explore various protein powders and explain how the consumer can choose the best one for them.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. The body can produce many amino acids. However, there are 9 amino acids that the body cannot produce and therefore must be provided in the diet. These are called essential amino acids. When a protein is complete it contains all essential amino acids. If the protein is incomplete it does not contain all of these essential amino acids and therefore must be combined with another protein source to become complete.

The following are a list of the most common protein powders on the market:

  1. Whey Protein: Whey is a complete protein that is easily digestible and made from milk. If a person is lactose intolerant or has a dairy allergy, this protein powder is not for you. Whey protein isolates are recommended (not concentrates). Whey Isolates contain the highest concentration of protein with very little fat.
  2. Casein: Casein is also a milk protein. Look for calcium caseinate on the label since this is the purest form of this protein. Casein is absorbed slowly so it may help a person feel full for longer. The downside is that since casein is less water soluble than whey, it doesnt mix as well with liquids.
  3. Egg: Eggs are a complete protein. This powder is separated by the whites and yolks and then dehydrated. Aside from protein, egg protein powders also provide other vitamins and minerals. These powders will not be an option for patients who are allergic to eggs. Egg protein powder is also one of the most expensive protein supplements available.
  4. Soy: Soy beans are one of the few plant protein sources that is complete, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids. This makes soy protein powders a great option for vegetarians or anyone who is lactose intolerant. Nonetheless, soy is not the most recommended form of protein, as some research has shown that too much soy affects hormone levels. There may be a correlation between soy consumption in some women with an increased risk of breast cancer. Many foods contain soy since it is a very low cost protein. Adding soy, as protein shakes may be excessive. As a result we recommend consuming this in moderation. Look for soy protein isolates which contain more protein and less fat compared to protein concentrates.
  5. Hemp: Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the Cannabis plant. Hemp is a complete plant based protein. It has the bonus that it provides Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids (which help fight inflammation) and it is also high in fiber.
  6. Pea: Pea is also a plant based protein. It is easily digested, however, it is not a complete protein (it is missing some necessary amino acids) so it must be coupled with another plant based source of protein such as brown rice or hemp.
  7. Brown Rice: This is also an easily digested protein. It is a good alternative for anyone allergic to soy or dairy or for anyone with a sensitive stomach. Because its plant based, it too must be coupled with another plant based protein such as hemp or pea protein to make it complete.

When it comes to protein powders, there are many choices and really something for everyone. With a little knowledge about each type, you’re bound to find the one that will best meet your protein needs.

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