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Does Protein Powder Affect Your Cholesterol Levels?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: December 20, 2021

The majority of my clients take whey protein on a daily basis either for weight management or to gain muscle mass. But one question I regularly get is whether many protein powders are good or bad for cholesterol.

This is mainly down to the fact that protein supplements also contain some fat, and people associate fat with high cholesterol.

The answer to this question took some discussion with my dietitian to fully explain it, and we found some surprising details.

Quick Summary

  • Different types of protein powder have different types and amounts of fat that may influence cholesterol. 
  • It's important to distinguish between HDL and LDL cholesterol levels and how whey protein and others impact those. 
  • Taking whey protein has been linked to the beneficial LDL dietary cholesterol, but other protein supplement types are different. 

Does Protein Powder Increase Or Decrease Cholesterol Levels?

container and scooper filled with protein powder

The answer to that depends on the type of protein powder and how it was processed.

Here's what I mean.

A typical protein concentrate will contain about 70% protein and 30% split between sugary carbs and fat.

And that fat is often a mix of good and bad fat. As a result, some whey protein concentrate supplements could increase your bad cholesterol intake, impact your body composition, and lead to heart disease.

That's not a good thing.

However, protein isolate supplements process the powder further to bring the protein to 90% leaving only a small amount of fat. And that fat may raise your good LDL cholesterol to lower blood pressure and avoid heart disease [1].

So, going back to the question: will whey protein raise or lower your cholesterol?

Generally speaking, a concentrate may raise while an isolate may lower your bad HDL cholesterol.

What Types Of Protein Are Best For Cholesterol?

stack of eggs and beans

To answer this question, I'll take a look at three types of protein powder.

Whey Protein

The type of whey protein that you should consider for its beneficial cholesterol properties is isolate [2]. It has far less fat and carb content than whey concentrate and delivers a stronger dose of essential amino acids per scoop.

Whey protein isolate will be a little bit more expensive, but you're getting a superior product that should avoid heart health issues and help you lose weight.

Egg Protein

Egg protein is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant. This protein is isolated from the egg white, which doesn't contain any fat [3]. As a result, it's a great option to avoid introducing any bad cholesterol boosters to your supplement stack.

Related Article: Egg White Protein vs Whey - What's better?

Plant Protein

The most common type you'll find in powder form is soy protein, but rice, hemp, and pea protein shakes will work just as well. The great thing with soy protein and other plant-based ones is that they contain practically zero fat.

The only thing you'll need to keep in mind is that, unlike whey protein, most plant proteins don't deliver the full amino acid range, so you may need to look for a supplement that blends different sources.

Or, you could choose a hemp protein shake, which is also low in saturated fat to reduce your cholesterol intake but still provides the full amino acid range [4].

"Too much protein of animal origin promotes high cholesterol and can contribute to the onset of cardiovascular disease. Plant protein, e.g., from the hemp plant, offers a remedy here because eating this protein does not lead to these symptoms, as protein in hemp is particularly well-balanced and also especially easily digestible." - Saint-Charles.eu.

How Much Protein Should You Take To Lower Cholesterol?

woman chugging a glass of milk

It generally doesn't matter whether you're using whey protein or a plant protein isolate, as both types may help increase your LDL, which is a good type of cholesterol.

For very active people that exercise daily, I would generally say that 20 to 30 grams of protein powder is a good starting point [5].

But it's also a good idea to double that amount if you're in a cutting phase.

Taking two protein shakes a day during those phases would help a lot with some extra fat loss.

For people who are less active and exercise only 2 to 3 times a week, I would still recommend taking protein shakes every day [6]. But on training days, aim for 20 to 30 grams, and on non-training days aim for about 15 grams.

This should still support your workout recovery and give you boosted health benefits for fat reduction.

Are There Downside To Taking More Protein?

man squeezing his stomach

People tend to focus only on the benefits of a higher protein intake, especially when it might improve blood pressure.

But there are some downsides if you start taking large volumes of protein through your food and supplements.

One issue you might encounter if you start taking very strong protein shakes with more than 40 grams of protein is that you feel bloated and even get some stomach cramps [7].

Very high levels of taking a dietary protein supplement have also been linked to higher risk factors of kidney stones [8].

So, don't just focus on the blood cholesterol and heart disease benefits, but weigh things up against all risk factors.

FAQs

Does Whey Protein Reduce Cholesterol?

Yes, whey protein powder may reduce cholesterol as long as it's an isolate. This is a high-quality protein that is better than concentrate and contains more protein per serving and less fat. It also has the ideal amino acid profile for building muscle and managing body weight.

Are Plant Proteins Better for Cholesterol?

Yes, plant proteins tend to be better for cholesterol as most of them have less fat than a whey protein supplement. As a result, they shouldn't impact your cholesterol level unless they have added sugar, which you should avoid.

Do You Know How To Limit Your Cholesterol With Protein?

The main takeaway for you is to stick with whey isolate, egg protein, or a plant-based supplement. Whey concentrate is the one type of protein in powdered forms to avoid as it tends to have more fat per serving, which could influence heart disease.

So, take a close look at the label of your protein powder and see what the protein type and fat content are.

If you’re not lactose intolerant or vegan, I would recommend a high-quality whey isolate supplement to have the best impact on your cholesterol.


References:

  1. https://ladder.openfit.com/pages/whey-protein-isolate-vs-concentrate/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-whey-protein
  3. https://www.eatthis.com/high-protein-foods/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6245118/
  5. https://blog.nasm.org/fitness/the-second-scoop-on-protein-when-what-and-how-much
  6. https://nakednutrition.com/blogs/recipes/protein-shake-on-off-days
  7. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/1234980/stomach-pain-and-bloating-causes-protein-reduce-bloating
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169452

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