Protein powder can be an easy way to add lean, low-calorie protein to your diet. It’s especially helpful in adding nutrition to carbohydrate-heavy foods. Like any source of protein, it helps to stabilize blood sugar, satisfy hunger, build muscle and strengthen immunity.
There are lots of different types of protein powder: whey or casein from milk, egg, pea, hemp, soy, brown rice, even beef protein powder.
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Whey is the most popular. It dissolves easily, has a good balance of amino acids, and is rapidly digested, which makes it ideal as a pre- and post-workout supplement. The two most popular types of whey are whey concentrate and isolate. Whey concentrate tends to be high in lactose (the milk sugar that can cause gas) while whey isolate can be found in virtually lactose-free form.
Soy has fallen out of favor, because it is usually from genetically modified plants, and because it contains phytoestrogens, plant forms of the female hormone estrogen. It’s most likely to be used by vegans, who rely on this rich source of plant protein.
Other plant-based proteins such as hemp, pea and rice-based proteins are popular with vegans and those with food intolerances because they are lactose-free and hypoallergenic.
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No matter what their origin, however, protein powders can also be loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, colorings and artificial flavors. This is why it’s imperative to read labels before making a purchase.
Here are some good ways to add protein powder to food. All protein powders can be used for baking, but each type of cooks differently so they are not entirely interchangeable. Whey and casein, for example, can be tricky to bake with because they can make foods become rubbery and dry during cooking.
It’s best to have no more than 20 percent of your batter as protein powder, and to add ingredients that retain help moisture, such as eggs, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit or pumpkin puree, or even mashed sweet potatoes or beans, says Anna Sward, food blogger and creator of www.proteinpow.com. Here are her top suggestions for sneaking protein powder into your daily diet.
- Classic smoothie. Most recipes are 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup fruit and a tablespoon or two of protein powder, but you can always add a spoonful or two of a nut butter or a bland green, such as spinach, Swart says. Whey or casein protein powder will help make your smoothie thick and frothy, while plant-based proteins will give it a more heavy, dense texture.
- Oatmeal. Mix in protein powder—any type will do–after you make the oatmeal and add extra milk if you’re using denser powders like rice or pea protein.
- Pancakes. To your regular pancake recipe, add a couple of tablespoons of any type protein powder, some extra milk, and a couple of extra egg whites, Swart recommends.
- Power balls. In a food processor, combine 2 cups almond or peanut butter with 2 tablespoons protein powder, 1/2 cups oats, 1/2 cup chopped dates, and a few tablespoons of milk or juice, until a doughy consistency is reached. Then, roll them into bite-sized balls and refrigerate until served.
- Mashed potatoes. To about two cups of your regular mashed potatoes recipe, add about 1/4 cup of unflavored whey or pea protein powder. Add more milk if desired to adjust texture and taste.
- Pudding. Follow the instructions to make instant pudding, then simply add 1-2 tablespoons of casein or brown rice protein powder with a bit of milk and stir into the pudding.
- Hot or cold mocha drinks. Mix 1 tablespoon of whey protein powder into about a cup of strong coffee (not too hot, or the whey will cook.) Heat 1/4 cup of milk, then whisk in 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder. Add to the coffee. Add sweetener as needed. Drink hot or pour over ice cubes.
- Muffins. To your regular muffin recipe, add a tablespoon or two of brown rice or pea protein and 1/2 cup of fruit puree or yogurt for extra moisture. Bake a little longer than usual, but keep an eye on the oven.
- Vegetable soup. Add a tablespoon or two of pea protein to your favorite vegetable soup, Swart suggests. This will enhance its flavor. It’ll also thicken it up and make it creamier.
- Pizza! Add a tablespoon or two of any unsweetened powder to your pizza crust recipe and bake as usual!