Smoothies are great!
They are convenient, quick and easy, and you can change the ingredients according to what kind of mood you are in (in other words, they are perfect for us women!).
Using a protein powder to give your smoothie a bit of extra ‘body’ (or even just to have on its own as a quick breakfast-on-the-go) is a handy tactic you can use to make your day-to-day life a bit easier. And I certainly think it's far better to start your day with a fresh smoothie, made with real ingredients and a good-quality protein powder, than reaching for a packaged processed cereal.
But….there’s a bit of a catch. There are many protein powders out there that claim to be healthy, but really aren’t very good for your body at all. And of course, there are some fantastic ones too – you just need to be a little bit savvy about hunting them out.
So, how do you tell the difference between a decent protein powder and an unhealthy product?
First off, check the label. Remember that ingredients are listed on labels in descending order of quantity, so you can get a good idea of what makes up the bulk of the powder by simply taking a bit of time to examine the label. And the fewer ingredients listed, the better. I think it is best to start with a plain powder, and add your own chosen fresh ingredients to the smoothie, rather than choose a powder that contains 15 different (powdered and refined) ingredients.
Second, always look at per 100g listing. As a guide, a good-quality protein powder should contain:
- At least 50g protein per 100g. Personally I prefer this to be around 65-70g, which gives you around 15-20g of protein in your shake or smoothie. A protein content of this level will help to keep you fuller for longer, assist weight loss and help you to recover from exercise better.
- Less than 10g carbohydrate. You don’t choose a protein powder to be high in carbohydrate, and a product that is high in carbohydrate is probably high in sugar too.
- Little to no added sugar. This is the one you really have to watch with most over-the-counter protein powders that are on the market. Unfortunately, a high proportion of them are loaded with sugar. For instance, Aldi’s ‘Trim and Slim’ product contains 42.5g sugar/100g (almost half is sugar!), and only 33g protein. And whilst I couldn’t find specific quantities on ‘Fatblaster’ shakes, their website listed sugar as the second ingredient in their chocolate shake (skim milk powder was first on the list), with polydextrose and sucrose (both also sugars, as I explain in the next point) further down the list. By comparison the protein powders I use in the clinic contain a maximum of 2g sugar per 100g of powder (around 1/3 of a teaspoon).
- Hidden sugars. Often, manufacturers will try to hide sugar in their products, by calling it by different names. These might include fructose, glucose, (anything ending in ‘-ose’ is a type of sugar) syrup, fruit juice concentrate, etc. Another one to watch out for is maltodextrin – while technically not sugar, it can affect your body in a similar way to sugar (ie it causes a rapid spike in your blood glucose levels, which is not great for energy, or weight loss). If you aren’t sure whether an ingredient is sugar – go back to that 'per 100g' column and the total sugar content will be revealed.
- No artificial sweeteners. This can be the other catch – your protein powder of choice might be ‘sugar-free’ but contain artificial sweeteners instead, to make it more palatable. These may include aspartame or sucralose – both of which have been associated with adverse health effects. If possible, aim for a powder that is either unsweetened, or uses stevia (a sugar-free natural herb) to provide sweetness.
Bonus Energy Smoothie Recipe:
1-2 ripe bananas/mango/berries
1 scoop good-quality protein powder
1 cup milk (almond or dairy if you drink it)
½ teaspoon good-quality vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon cold-pressed coconut oil
1 probiotic capsule (optional)
Blend all ingredients in a blender or Thermomix until smooth and frothy.
Tip: Add a high-quality probiotic capsule such as Inner Health Plus to the smoothie.
Simply open a capsule and add to the smoothie before blending.