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Sales of protein powders are leaping tall buildings in a single bound - smoothie lovers everywhere are loading up. just make sure you know what you're swallowing before you start up that blender.
Most protein powders get their oomph from whey left over from the cheese and milk biz, but how clean and green was the dairy itself? The Women’s Healthy Environments Network warns there’s a good chance North American whey products are contaminated with bovine growth hormones outlawed on Canadian farms but cleared for import in dehydrated goods like whey powder. Though antibiotic residues may not turn up in finished dairy products, their use on conventional farms is definitely linked to antibiotic resistance and waterway pollution. Heavy metal contamination is also an issue. Back in 2010, Consumer Reports slammed Muscle Milk and others for high levels of lead. The Consumer Wellness Center found Muscle Milk’s levels have improved since. Be leery of artificial sweeteners and GMO-heavy soy, corn and canola fillers.
A lot of protein powders advertise that their whey is special because it comes from New Zealand. And they’re right. The country’s livestock is almost exclusively free-range, grass-fed and free of the bovine growth hormones that plague American dairy products (and can be imported into Canada). Ergogenics brand says its whey is also antibiotic-free, but don’t assume all New Zealand whey is. The NZ dairy industry is “a significant consumer of antibiotics,” according to regulators there. Either way, do you really need a regular protein source imported from 15,000 km away?
Plant-based brands using peas and rice get a lot of buzz for containing as much protein as many whey powders. The problem is rice-based proteins can test higher for heavy metals (like garden of life did it’s now reformulating). Unlike the U.S., Canada has standards for this in place, and both of these BC-made brands are tops for purity. Though FYI, Vega protein powders were recalled in late 2013 due to antibiotic residues. Vega’s chocolate formulas are definitely the tastiest plant-based protein powder I’ve tried: the sport version has 25 grams of protein but no organic content, and the brown rice is from China. However, 75 per cent of the Vega One version is North American-sourced, it has a half-dozen organic ingredients and 20 grams of protein. Too bad the cocoa isn’t fair trade, but the bottle is 100 per cent post-consumer recycled. Genuine Health’s new digestion-friendly Fermented Vegan Proteins+ ferments its Canadian peas and Asian rice protein and incorporates some Canadian organic fermented hemp for a total of 20 grams of protein.
From the clever Canadian hemp company that also makes Hemp Hearts (another nice source of protein that’s great on cereal and salads) comes a Canadian-grown protein powder. The plain HempPro70 offers a good 20 grams of protein per serving, but this one isn’t organic. The fields may be sprayed with pesticides before seeding. I prefer their regular organic hemp protein made with fair trade cocoa and coconut sugar, but a serving only gives you 8 grams of protein – nowhere near as much as others – so I’ve got to dock a point on performance. At least Prairie Naturals organic hemp with organic cocoa gives you 13 grams.
This one is technically your greenest high-protein pick, since it’s made with a waste product of artisanal North American cheese makers using certified organic grass-fed, pasture-raised dairy. Like Tera’s Organic Whey, the whey comes from Wisconsin, making it the closest protein powder source to Toronto (1,000 km vs up to 4,000 km for hemp products). Bottled in Toronto, it gives you 24 grams of protein per serving. Progressive even uses fair trade, organic cocoa. Unfortunately for me, this whey is not lactose-free.