I wanted to ask you about Garden of Life or Vega protein and greens powder. It says its plant-based. I like all the healthy things in contains. I also throw in a handful of spinach, banana, and frozen blueberries. Can you please let me know what you think about plant-based protein powder from these two manufacturers?
One of the most common misconceptions in our society is that protein powders are a healthy dietary addition. The truth is that protein powders are not only completely unnecessary but normally associated with more harm than good. The fact that they are plant-based does not shield them from the risks and concerns associated with protein powders as a whole. All protein powders have their own problems, and none are ideal or recommended for several reasons that I will outline below.
First, people in most countries today who eat enough food, regardless if it is animal or plant food, get more than enough protein. There is no risk of any protein deficiency and more protein is not better. High protein diets are stressful for the body and in no way healthy. For a good understanding of this, I recommend reading the book Proteinaholic by Garth Davis, MD. Reduced protein intake, not higher protein intake, has also been associated with the most health and longevity benefits.
Accumulating evidence points to a restriction of protein or specific amino acids in the diet as promoting healthspan. Low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets are associated with the longest lifespans.
Second, the health and nutrition claims that these products contain are great for marketing and creating hype to make people think that they need them or will be better off by eating them, but the reality is quite different. We have to remember that supplements, including protein powders, are not regulated in most countries, and companies can bend and stretch the truth in numerous ways, and state all kinds things that are not even true. This is all done in order to make the products sound appealing, necessary, and ultimately to get us to buy them.
In truth, protein powders are just glorified processed foods.
If you have one of these products, look at what you are eating: a fabricated powder. This is so far removed from what food actually is and what food is supposed to be in order to offer us its wholesome and natural benefits. Isolated and synthetic forms of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients do not function or offer the same benefits as their real counterparts found in real whole food. In fact, numerous studies have shown that isolated and synthetic forms of these compounds are associated with various imbalances and health risks. For a good understanding of this, I recommend reading the book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. Similarly, lots of misleading marketing hype and claims exist when it comes to so-called whole food vitamins that are used in products like Garden of Life and Vega. What you think you are getting and what you are actually getting in these products are two very different things.
Third, consuming plant-based protein and meal replacement powders create a false positive, giving people the impression that they are eating healthy or getting all of their nutrients when usually this is not the case at all.
Neither a multivitamin, nor a miraculously-sounding supplement powder will replace or make up for the inadequacies of a poor diet.
As mentioned above, real, whole food has a completely different effect on our body and is digested and assimilated in quite different ways than any isolated, processed, or synthetic nutrient. The latter can create imbalances in the body, as it can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its nutrient uptake properly, can put stress on organs, like the liver and kidneys, or it may eliminate altogether some of the nutrient(s) that we think we are getting from the product, for any number of reasons. While the makers of plant protein powders boast that their products contain 100% of this or that nutrient to meet your daily needs, as if this was something to be proud of, this is not what your body needs or wants in a sitting, or gets when you consume such products. The safest and best way to regulate nutrients, and ensure that we get all the nutrients we need, is via a diet of real whole food.
Our goal is to live longer, have less disease, and be happier. Traditional isolate multivitamins will not do that for us, and there’s now LOTS of evidence that proves that. We must eat a healthy, varied diet to accomplish this goal.
Neal Smoller, PharmD — Founder of Village Vitality
Fourth, protein and meal replacement powders have heavy metal and other contamination concerns; for more information about this, see the Clean Label Project. The irony is that plant-based protein powders had some of the worst scores in this regard. Both Garden of Life and Vega tests resulted in some of the highest contamination concerns. Most people see products like protein powders as some kind of health enhancers, when in reality they should be questioning the safety of protein powders.
Consumers should expect nothing from [supplements] because we don’t have any clear evidence that they’re beneficial, and they should be leery that they could be putting themselves at risk. Whether it’s on the bottle or not, there can be ingredients in there that can do harm.
S. Bryn Austin, Professor of Behavioral Sciences — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Fifth, we need to think more broadly about the impact of our choices, and what happens when we buy such products. Who we support with our money and resources matters more today than ever before. We live in times when most corporations put profit above all else, and in the process create a path of destruction, from the waste they produce to the lives they destroy, be those of humans or other animals. It is, therefore, prudent to know that Garden of Life is owned by Nestle, one of the most unethical companies on Earth. Vega is owned by Danone, a French multinational food-products corporation largely focused on dairy, that also operates based on the degradation of human health, animal life, and environmental resources. So I encourage each of us to be aware and informed about who and what we are supporting with our money when buying any products today. We are creating the system we have and influencing the system we will have in the future, so the more broadly we consider the impact of our actions, the more everyone benefits in the end.
In summary, protein powders, even when plant-based, are a risk to our health and a waste of our money and environmental resources. They are pricey products, and the money we spend on them could be put to much better use by allocating it to buy real food and high-quality food, such as organic, fresh, local, and seasonal food. Such food has the most benefits for us and provides all that we need to create healthy bodies and optimally healthy diets. We must learn to trust real food again, and focus on it for all that we require. The more we do this, the more effective is the use of our time, efforts, and resources, and the fewer risks we introduce into our body. Nothing processed or packaged will ever beat the power and benefit of real food.