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Is Protein Powder poison?

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

An article that does the rounds every year is the dangers of Protein Powder. Havard Health (2020) released an article in 2020 that is being shared on social media.

The blog and article, stated: "they may contain added sugar, calories, or even toxic chemicals." Adding protein powder to a glass of milk or a smoothie may seem like a simple way to boost health (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, bone strength, and numerous body functions. Furthermore, many older adults do not consume enough protein because of a reduced appetite, as protein is very satiating. Nevertheless, Harvard Health Publishing (2020) recommend to be careful: a scoop of chocolate or vanilla protein powder can harbour health risks if the supplement has not been drug tested.

What is protein powder?

Protein powders are powdered protein forms that come from plants (soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, or hemp), eggs, or milk (casein or whey protein). The powders may include other ingredients such as added sugars, artificial flavouring, thickeners, vitamins, and minerals. The amount of protein per scoop can vary from 10 to 30 grams. Supplements used for building muscle contain relatively more protein, and weight loss supplements contain relatively less (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020).

What are the risks Harvard Health (2020) have noticed?

There are numerous risks to consider when using a protein powder. Among them:

  • A protein powder is a dietary supplement. The FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labelling of products. So, there is no way to know if a protein powder contains what manufacturers claim.

  • We do not know the long-term effects. "There are limited data on the possible side effects of high protein intake from supplements," McManus says.

  • It may cause digestive distress. "People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose [milk sugar] can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder," McManus points out.

  • It may be high in added sugars and calories. Some protein powders have little added sugar, and others have a lot (as much as 23 grams per scoop). Some protein powders wind up, turning a glass of milk into a drink with more than 1,200 calories. The risk: weight gain and an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.

A new risk revealed.

Earlier this year, a nonprofit group called the Clean Label Project released a report about toxins in protein powders. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA. How could protein powder contain so many contaminants? The Clean Label Project points to manufacturing processes or toxins in soil (absorbed by plants that are made into protein powders) (Clean Label Project, 2020). Not all of the protein powders that were tested contained elevated levels of toxins. Anyone can see the results at the Clean Label Project's website (Clean Label Project, 2020)(


Harvard Health Publishing (2020). The hidden dangers of protein powders - Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at:

Clean Label Project. (2020). Homepage - Clean Label Project. [online] Available at:

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