I don’t think it is too far of a stretch to say we are a generation of protein shake devotees. Our protein shake obsession goes beyond a daily habit. It’s become a full-on lifestyle. Just Google “protein shake recipes” and you’ll see what I mean.
But in addition to being a lifestyle trend, protein shakes have also become highly profitable for businesses. According to Euromonitor International, the US market for protein powders is currently at 4.7 billion and is expected to grow to 7.7 billion by 2020. That’s a LOT of protein powder! And thanks to crafty marketing, protein powders are often positioned as an indispensable component of a healthy lifestyle, so there’s a lot of people who truly believe their protein powder is an essential food group (it’s not, protein powder is really a supplement.)
But there’s an elephant in the room….
The Average Person Does Not Need More Protein
As a nation, we are by no means in any sort of protein emergency. If you have our Clean Cuisine book you already know the vast majority of people living in the United States not only do not need more protein but already get too much. This is relevant because protein is not a free food.
If you eat more protein than your body needs, the extra protein does not just evaporate; it gets stored as body fat. That means the 100 or 200 extra protein calories you may be consuming in your favorite protein shake recipes could very well be contributing to an extra 10, 20, 30 or more extra pounds. Too much protein can also be taxing on your kidneys and liver. The body can only break down 5 to 9 grams of protein per hour, and any excess that is not burned for energy is converted to fat or excreted, so it’s a ridiculous waste to be consuming so much more than you really need.
How much protein do you need a day? While there is still some gray area as to the exact number of grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass a person needs each day, most experts estimate the amount to be 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass. The Institute of Medicine recommends that we ingest 0.8 gram of protein for every kilogram that we weigh. For example, a 120-pound woman would need to eat only about 44 grams of protein a day. This isn’t a whole lot. And yet, whether you are buying a pre-made protein shake or making protein shake recipes using a protein powder, the average protein shake contains about 15 to 20 grams of protein per serving. The point is, the protein in your diet can quickly add up (check out how I quickly get to 72 grams of protein on a day where I decided to only eat vegan.)
Although everyone is making a mad dash for extra protein, the reality is a protein deficiency is not the main dietary mistake people make. The #1 biggest diet mistake people make is not eating enough antioxidant and phytonutrient rich fruits and vegetables. Instead of trying to get more protein in your diet, you should instead be trying to get more phytonutrients and antioxidants (but that’s a whole separate argument.)
But in addition to the fact that extra protein calories is the last thing on earth most people need, there’s another big problem with protein shakes that nobody is talking about…
Protein Shake Recipes Made with Protein Powders = Processed Food
It is ironic so many of the people who go for protein shakes are very interested in clean eating yet totally unaware that the protein shake powders they use in their shakes meet the definition of a processed food.
Take a look at the following popular protein shake powder brands listed below and you will see the primary ingredients (the first one or two ingredients listed on the nutrition label) are not whole foods.
The protein powders listed below are all made by taking a whole food and then isolating a compound in that food (protein) and refining it into a powder. This process is the very definition of a processed food! Anytime you isolate just the protein component of a whole food, you eliminate the fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals, essential fats, and essential nutrients found within the original whole food.
Take a careful look at what is in these products…
- Shakeology: The first two ingredients in this popular brand include whey protein isolate and pea protein, both of which are processed food ingredients. Whey protein isolate is created by separating components from milk and processing it to yield whey protein. Pea protein is made by extracting the protein from peas. Niether whey protein isolate nor pea protein consitutes a “whole food” ingredient.
- Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein: The first two ingredients in this product include organic pea protein and organic sprouted brown rice protein. The sprouted brown rice protein is made exactly like the pea protein, by extracting the protein from the brown rice. Again, this is just a processed food.
- Nutiva Organic Plant Protein Superfood: The first ingredient is listed as “Protein Blend”, which consists of a blend of isolated protein from pea, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, hemp and sacha inchi, all of which would be incredibly healthy ingredients if they were simply left in their “whole” form!
- Vega Clean Protein: The first four ingredients include pea protein, hemp protein, pumpkin seed protein and afalfa protein. If this product could instead just use “whole” peas, “whole” hemp seeds, “whole” pumpkin seeds and “whole” alfalfa then it wouldn’t be a processed food (sigh…)
I can’t possibly list all of the protein shake brands on the market, but if you start taking a look at the ingredients of various products you will soon quickly see how they are all more or less the same. If they have the word “protein” behind an ingredient (such as soy protein isolate, whey protein, pea protein, etc.) then you know it is a processed ingredient. I am not aware of a single protein shake brand on the market that can claim it is made entirely from whole foods.
Formula for the Cleanest + Healthiest Protein Shake Recipes
Instead of using store-bought protein powders, why not make your protein shake recipes from whole food ingredients?
For a number of reasons, my absolute favorite whole food ingredient for making protein shake recipes from scratch is hemp seeds. It is every bit as easy to measure 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds as it is to measure out 2 scoops of processed protein powder.
And with “whole food” hemp seeds you get so many perks. In addition to providing an excellent source of easy-to-digest plant protein, the health benefits of hemp seeds are tremendous. Unlike with processed protein powders, “whole food” hemp seeds pack a hefty nutrition punch delivering antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and super anti-inflammatory omega fats. One of the omega fats found in “whole” hemp seeds, GLA (gamma linolenic acid), can be considered a “super fat.” GLA is very difficult to get from diet alone as few foods have it, but hemp seeds happen to be one of the richest sources. In addition to being highly anti-inflammatory, the GLA in hemp seeds is incredibly helpful for balancing hormones as well as nourishing the hair, nails and skin. If you make your protein shake recipes using a processed protein powder then you totally miss out on the health perks of GLA, phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. all found within “whole” hemp seeds.
My super simple formula for making homespun protein shake recipes uses “whole food” hemp seeds as the base protein and then I add in 1/2 cup of any frozen fruit and 1/2 cup of any dark leafy green for a phytonutrient and antioxidant boost. The only downside to the homespun protein shake recipes is that you do need a high speed blender in order to get a super smooth and creamy texture. I know high speed blenders can be pricey, but they are so well worth it. I personally prefer Vitamix and always encourage people to look into their certified reconditioned options to save money. If you have followed Clean Cuisine for a while you know cooking with a Vitamix is what enabled me to truly eat clean, so this is one appliance I can’t imagine my kitchen without.
And finally, although “counting your food” in the form of calories, carbs, fat grams, protein, etc. is not at all something we recommend (learn more about why calorie counting is not helpful HERE), I realize that many of you will want to know how many grams of protein are in my protein shake recipe formula below. The exact amount of protein will vary slightly depending on what fruit and vegetable you use (all “whole foods”, including fruits and vegetables, have some protein), but one serving should yield approximately 10 grams of protein. Of course you’ll be getting WAY more than just protein too 😉
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup frozen fruit (any frozen fruit will work!)
- ½ cup frozen dark leafy greens (any frozen dark green leafy vegetable will work!)
- 1 or 2 medjool dates
- Pinch of unrefined sea salt
- Place all ingredients in a high speed blender (such as a Vitamix) and process on high until smooth and creamy. Add a few ice cubes and process again. Drink cold.
Want to Learn More About How to Optimize Nutrition with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?