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Are Protein Powders Safe? (Everything You Need To Know)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 28, 2022

There are many misconceptions about protein powders. Some say that they can cause health issues, like heart problems and kidney damage.

But is there any truth behind these claims? I’ve partnered with a dietitian to find out.

Here are our science-backed conclusions.

Summary Of Key Findings

  • Protein powders made by trustworthy manufacturers are safe.
  • People are mainly concerned because not all protein powders are evaluated by third parties.
  • You can take precautionary measures to ensure your protein supplement is safe and prevent health issues.

Is Protein Powder Safe?

Pouring powder on a glass of water

In general, protein powders are safe.

Your body needs protein to produce hormones and enzymes and build muscles and bones. And many world-class athletes are using powders to improve their performance.

So, why are some people questioning the safety of these protein supplements?

The main reason is that manufacturers of dietary supplements can evaluate the safety of their products themselves.

The FDA puts them in charge of labeling too. And some studies have found that some manufacturers lied in their Nutrition Facts.

For example, one study found that many leading protein powders had misleading labels and contained lower-cost proteins, like rice, soy, and chicken [1].

Another study found that many powders contain heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead [2].

But there’s good news.

These studies have obviously damaged the reputation of some companies. This pushed them to try to win back the trust of their buyers by introducing third-party testing.

Nowadays, most products are tested by credible, unbiased researcher companies instead of manufacturers themselves. So, it’s unlikely that established companies are still using unhealthy ingredients in their products.

This can also help you differentiate between trustworthy and potentially dangerous supplements. Choose only those products that have been tested by third parties and avoid the others.

You should also take other precautionary measures that we’ll mention below.

Some Possible Side Effects

A woman in pain and side effects

Side effects are always possible, even if you buy the safest, most tested protein powder out there. We’ll list a few such side effects.

However, it’s important to note that these aren’t that common.

Also, many side effects occur when users don’t consider their sensitivities or allergies before buying supplements.

So, keep in mind that a protein powder isn’t necessarily the culprit when side effects occur. The real root of the issue is often irresponsible usage.

Digestive Distress

Digestive issues mainly occur when consumers don’t consider the ingredients before buying a protein powder:

“People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose [milk sugar] can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder.”

- Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital

Digestive issues that may occur include gas, bloating, and cramping. Although these side effects aren’t life-threatening, they’re still uncomfortable.

Avoid them by choosing a plant-based protein powder if you suffer from lactose intolerance or dairy allergies.

Here are a few common plant-based protein powders to choose from:

Whey protein isolate is a good option, too, because it contains less lactose than other dairy protein powders.

Spikes In Blood Sugar

Woman using glucometer with high blood sugar result

According to Harvard Health Publishing [3], some powders have a lot of added sugar. And a lot of sugar increases blood sugar and leads to weight gain.

What’s more, both of these outcomes can further lead to cardiovascular problems.

We’ll admit that the fact that some protein powders contain a lot of sugar surprised us. After all, many people take it precisely to lose weight or improve their heart health.

But the situation may sound worse than it is. It seems that only a few protein powders contain a lot of sugar, i.e., this is an exception rather than a rule.

Most protein powders we’ve tried actually contain very little sugar.

That’s because manufacturers are aware of their buyers’ goals, with weight loss and increased muscle mass being at the top of their list.

Since they won’t achieve these goals with a sugary protein powder, and companies don’t want unhappy buyers, most products don’t contain high amounts of sugar.

Related: Best Protein Powders For Diabetics

Other Side Effects

You might have heard that a protein powder can cause kidney damage, poor bone health, and even liver dysfunction.

However, these side effects occur only when you consume too much protein for a long time [4].

You don’t have to worry about these health risks as long as you stick to the recommended dosage.

How To Safely Use Protein Powders

Protein powder on a small cup

Here are a few guidelines you should follow to ensure you’re consuming protein powder the right way: 

  • Don’t consume too much protein powder. Stick to the recommended daily protein intake. An average man should consume 56 grams of protein per day, while an average woman should consume 46 grams [5].
  • Don’t swap meals for powder. You should still eat protein-rich foods even if you’re using a protein powder. No supplement can replace a nutritious diet. Eat more whole foods and lean meats for a high-protein diet.
  • Check Nutrition Facts. Although manufacturers can lie about the ingredients in their powders, it doesn’t mean they will. You should still check Nutrition Facts.
  • Choose powders tested by third parties. Third parties, like USP and ConsumerLab, often test supplements. These tests are more credible than those run by the manufacturers themselves.
  • Choose a protein that suits you. For example, don’t choose a dairy-based protein powder if you’re lactose intolerant. It’s that simple.
  • Opt for natural sweeteners. Avoid buying a protein powder with a lot of added sugar or artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. Choose only powders with natural sweeteners, such as monk fruit and stevia.

FAQs

Is Protein Powder Bad for Your Heart?

Protein powder isn’t bad for your heart. On the contrary, it decreases LDL cholesterol that is known to cause cardiovascular problems [6]. However, some studies have found that high-protein diets cause artery plaque buildup [7].

Should You Worry About The Safety Of Protein Powders?

You shouldn’t worry about the safety of protein powders as long as they’re tested by a credible third party.

It helps if you use a protein powder responsibly. That includes checking its Nutrition Facts, avoiding ingredients you’re sensitive to, and sticking to the recommended protein dosage.

As long as you’re acting like a responsible consumer, there’s nothing to worry about.

So, we encourage you to find a trustworthy protein powder and start enjoying its many benefits today.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27072112/
  2. https://cleanlabelproject.org/protein-powder-white-paper/
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-hidden-dangers-of-protein-powders
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045293/
  5. https://www.sclhealth.org/blog/2019/07/how-much-protein-is-simply-too-much
  6. https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-020-01384-7
  7. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200123152614.htm

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