by Tara Postnikoff
Smoothies are an amazing way to get a lot of nutrition in a convenient and tasty way. They can be customized to suit your mood, tastes and nutritional needs. They are great for breakfast, a quick meal, or as a pre or post run snack. The most common concern with smoothies–the homemade versions and especially the store-bought ones–is the high sugar content.
One way to boost the nutritional content of your smoothie is to add protein powder, as well as some additional ingredients to make it a balanced meal. This can make it easier to boost your protein levels throughout the day if you are not getting enough from real foods. However, it is important to know that protein powders are a processed form of protein and should be considered a supplement to the diet; in other words, you should not get all your protein from a powder.
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Sources: Dairy vs. Vegetarian
When buying a protein powder, the main choice is between dairy and plant-based powders. You can follow your personal preference, unless you have an allergy to a specific food. Within the dairy protein powder category, you will see milk, casein, or whey (a byproduct of milk production). Usually, you will come across whey protein isolate, concentrate or a blend of both. One of the main differences is how they are manufactured and how much protein they contain, with isolate having more protein by weight. You can expect to pay more for hydrolyzed, micro-filtration and ion-exchange processed protein powders.
In the vegetarian world, there are many options. The main contenders are soy, brown rice or blends of hemp, pea and other plant-based proteins. Brown rice is considered hypoallergenic, so for those with sensitive systems, it might be the way to go. Soy is one to avoid, as it is a common allergen and most soy products come from genetically modified sources. A blend of plant-based proteins will maximize your amino acid profile.
Flavours and Sweeteners
Unless you have a food allergy or sensitivity, the most important thing to consider is not the type of protein powder, but the additives. I suggest seeking out plain or unflavoured protein powders to avoid added sweeteners, especially artificial ones such as sucralose, aspartame or acesulfame potassium. If you do opt for a flavoured variety, stick to simple ones and read the ingredients fully. On the list, it’s preferable to find cacao powder or natural vanilla extract rather than artificial flavours.
Some protein powders offer more than just protein and will be referred to as “all-in-one” on the label. This means that they will have accessory nutrients in them-for example, the equivalent of a multi-vitamin, a greens additive or added Omega fatty acids. While these combinations may be of interest to you, be aware that they might not be suitable for kids or for pregnant or lactating women, due to the specific ingredients or concentration of nutrients.
Read Labels Carefully
It’s important to fully evaluate the label and all the ingredients before purchasing the product to know if it’s right for you and the rest of your family. Keep in mind that not all products are regulated and sometimes what is proclaimed on the bottle is not what is inside. Other protein powders can have substances that may be banned by various sport regulation bodies and may affect one’s ability to compete in a “clean” manner. Research the company you intend to buy from to see if they have a certificate for pureness.
What About Kids?
While simple protein powders are likely safe for kids, in most cases they are unnecessary, provided the child gets a sufficient amount of protein from regular food. If you’re making the smoothie specifically for kids, an alternate protein source would be plain Greek yogurt. Choosing a plain variety is essential to avoid upwards of seven added teaspoons of sugar per serving. It is more cost-effective, too. Typically, a 500 ml container of plain Greek yogurt costs about $5, and one serving is 175 mL-that’s 3.7 servings per container or $0.74 per 18-gram protein serving. In contrast, protein powder can run about $50-$60 per 900g tub, making the per-serving cost almost double: $ 1.44 per 18-gram protein serving. For kids who can’t digest dairy, organic soft tofu could be a non-dairy alternative that shouldn’t affect the smoothie’s taste.
Tara Postnikoff is a Registered Nutritional Consultant, certified Personal Trainer and triathlon/running coach in Toronto. She is an avid distance runner and triathlete, and a regular guest speaker for Running Room training programs. To learn more, visit her website at www.heal-nutrition.com.