Protein shakes: helpful or harmful?

Recently I was asked about protein shakes. This question is a common one, especially at this time of year, so I thought I would share it!

“I had found a basic whey protein shake that was not so expensive, with very few listed ingredients, and was taking that to kick start my metabolism in the morning. I am NOT a breakfast eater, at least not until being up for a few hours, but I could do the shake before leaving work. I was seeing some weight loss results, directly due to that or due to overall better eating habits is not certain. My problem is that the store does not seem to carry that particular one anymore, and so my research into another brand started, and ended in confusion. Do you know of a brand that would suit my needs and not empty my pockets? Or do you have any other advice?”
–Jane

Jane is absolutely right: there are ok and not so ok brands or types of protein shakes out there. 
I think she is going in the right direction with the search for a smaller ingredients list. Some shakes have added fat and calories (they are usually marketed as weight gainers) which most people are not looking for. For regular people who exercise, the type of protein will not be particularly important whereas if you are an elite athlete, then the type of protein will matter. 

To address this issue more generally- my major issues with ptn powders is the cost, the fact that they do not make a balanced meal and the taste. However they are convenient!

 These powders are crazy expensive where as alternatives such as cottage cheese, milk powder, regular milk and even greek yogurt give you the same results (and they have way more vitamins and minerals). The also taste much better. Again, if you are an everyday person who exercises, the type of protein will not make a difference. 

A protein shake made with water or even milk does not make a balanced meal since it lacks 1-2 food groups (fruit and grain products). You can actually make a balanced shake by combining milk, cottage cheese or yogurt (to up the protein content a bit), oats, fruit and even throwing in some sliced almonds. If you really want to use the protein powder, you can add fruit, milk and 1/4 cup of oats to make it more balanced. I would use a scoop that gives the equivalent of 14-21g of protein. Sometimes the companies suggest you add more than that, and there is no need to exceed 30g of protein. In fact, recent research has suggested that it is best to divide out your protein intake over the day into 30g chunks. This helps the body more efficiently use it to help build muscle, keep the immune function running well, etc. 

One last point- Jane mentioned that she wanted to “boost her metabolism”. Protein and protein shakes do not “boost” anything. Eating breakfast can jump start your metabolism but there is nothing magical about protein powder. Jane’e weight loss cannot be put down to any one thing. Including breakfast more regularly, spreading calories more evenly through out the day, exercising more or paying more attention to what she eats could all be contributing factors. Protein shakes may help some of these factors come to life but she can make this shake out of real food and get the same results!

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