The Best Protein Powder for a Low-Carb Diet

Eating a low-carb diet means cutting carbs anywhere you can. Protein powders should help you boost your protein intake for the day without adding carbs to your diet. As low-carb diets gain popularity, more companies are making products specifically for that purpose.

Always check the nutrition facts before purchasing protein powder — some have more carbs than you may realize! (Image: Sirichai Chitvises/iStock/GettyImages)

Low-carb diets are popular and come in a variety of different forms — and some are more extreme than others. Ketogenic diets ask for some of the lowest carb intakes, with carbs only making up 5 to 10 percent of daily calorie intake. Generally speaking, a low-carb diet is anything that recommends less than the minimum recommended carbohydrate intake of 45 percent of total calories.

Low-Carb Diets and Diabetes

People switch to low-carb diets for any number of reasons. If you have diabetes, a low-carb diet may decrease your blood sugar levels, and lower your need for diabetes-related medication. However, a very low-carb diet may not be safe for everyone with diabetes — so you should check with your doctor before making changes to your diet.

Weight-Loss and Low-Carb Diets

Many who switch to low-carb diets are looking for a way to lose weight. It can help by reducing your appetite, according to a 2016 study published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

Protein and fat, which make up the bulk of your diet when you reduce carbs, take longer to digest. That keeps your hunger at bay so you feel full longer. Theoretically, this should help you lose weight, but most research on low-carb diets shows that they're actually on par with low-fat diets in terms of weight loss.

Benefits of Low-Carb Diets

There are health benefits to eating a low-carb diet other than potential weight loss and controlling blood sugar levels. According to a 2017 article published in Gastroenterology, following a low-carb diet reduces triglyceride levels and improves HDL cholesterol. Both lower your risk for heart disease.

Supplements Are Supplementary

Supplements can help your diet, as long as you use them as an addition, not a replacement. In other words, a protein supplement shouldn't replace real food. It should be an additional protein source to add more protein to your diet.

When you're eating a low-carb diet, it shouldn't be too difficult to get more protein in, because many protein sources are low in carbohydrates. However, if you find that it's tough to meet your protein requirements for the day, you should consider supplementation.

Finding a Low-Carb Protein Powder

When you select a protein powder, you need something low in carbohydrates. If you can only have 5 to 10 percent of your calories for the day from carbs, you don't want to waste that on your shake. It's better to get your carbs from fruits and vegetables, which contain healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Watch Out for Net Carbs

On a supplement label, you'll find the basics — like carbs, fat, protein, calories, vitamins and minerals. There are also subcategories for some. Some companies add a subcategory for carbohydrates called net carbs.

Net carbs, these companies claim, are the total amount of carbs not including sugar alcohols or fiber. Their theory is that you can't digest fiber or sugar alcohols fully, so they shouldn't count towards your total carb allotment.

Diet expert Madelyn Wheeler explained in an interview with Diabetes Forecast that your body can digest almost half of the carbs in fiber and sugar alcohols. If you see a nutrition label claim that something has no net carbs, you should be suspicious. Opt for a product that's simply low in carbohydrates, instead of relying on net carbs.

Potential Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

Low-carb diets reduce your sugar intake, so you might crave something sweet every now and again. Protein shakes that are flavored well can replace things like candy and cookies. If they aren't tasty, it can be a chore to choke down your protein drink. Opt for something delicious, even if it has artificial sweeteners.

Despite their reputation, most artificial sweeteners are safe to include in your diet. They're incredibly sweet compared to sugar, so a little bit goes a long way. Because you only use a little, they add almost no calories or carbs to your protein shake.

Protein-to-Carbohydrate Ratio

When selecting your protein powder, keep in mind that the ratio of protein to carbohydrate is important. If one serving of a product contains 15 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbs, it has a similar ratio to something with 30 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbs.

Different Types of Protein

If you're lactose-intolerant or want to avoid dairy, check the ingredients of the protein powder. Whey protein is a popular dairy-derived protein and is included in many powders. There are also a few options for plant-based powders if you need an alternative source of protein.

Keto-Friendly Protein

Eating a ketogenic diet means cutting back on carbs and, sometimes, protein. Any low-carb protein powder will do, but the best protein powder for a keto diet will contain some fat — and even caffeine for energy. You don't have to be on a keto diet to use these protein powders, and they're useful for anyone trying to restrict carb intake.

High-Fat Keto Protein Powder

At 15 grams of protein to 2 of carbohydrates, Ancient Protein's keto protein powder is relatively low in carbohydrates. It's a keto-friendly protein powder because it contains 11 grams of fat. The struggle of keto is that you have to consume a lot of fat but only a moderate amount of protein, so using a powder with fat included helps.

This product also contains 50 milligrams of caffeine. While it's less than a standard cup of coffee, the caffeine can give you a little energy boost in case you feel sluggish without carbs.

Perfect Keto Collagen

Collagen protein is a new craze in the keto world. It's protein derived from a type of connective tissue called collagen, which is a strong, elastic material that gives your connective tissue, including your ligaments, strength. Taking a collagen supplement makes your skin less wrinkly and more elastic, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals.

At 10 grams of protein to 1 gram of carbohydrate, this collagen protein powder is very low in carbs. In fact, with that 1 gram of carbohydrate there's almost 1 gram of dietary fiber, so it's not fully digestible. There's also 4 grams of fat per serving, which will help you meet your fat intake goal.

Paleo-Friendly Proteins

The paleo diet is based on foods that would have been available to hunter-gatherer human tribes of the Paleolithic era. It's a method of eating that attempts to eliminate most modern, processed foods in favor of wholesome ingredients. While it's not necessarily a low-carb diet, paleo eliminates many sources of carbohydrates.

Paleo-Pro Protein Powder

The protein in Paleo-Pro powder comes from grass-fed beef, because you're not allowed meat from grain-fed cattle on the paleo diet. There's also egg protein. With only five ingredients listed, it's an incredibly simple protein powder.

With only 1 gram of carbs and 26 grams of protein per serving, this is one of the best low-carb paleo protein powders on the market. It only has 1 gram of fat, which spares you precious calories if you're trying to lose or maintain weight but keep your protein intake high.

Plant-Based Protein

Whether you're vegetarian, vegan or can't use animal protein sources for any reason, there's a substantial selection of plant-based proteins to choose from. Unfortunately, eating a vegetarian and vegan diet means carbs are much easier to eat than protein. That's why finding a relatively low-carb protein source is essential.

Truvani Plant-Based Protein

Some vegetarians and vegans may have a difficult time getting enough protein throughout the day. If you need some help, you can use a plant-based and vegan friendly protein like the one from Truvani.

It has 5 grams of carbs for 20 grams of protein, which isn't bad considering 2 grams of carbs are from fiber. Stevia is used to improve the taste without raising the amount of carbs.

Elevate Plant-Based Vegan Protein

Designed for vegan athletes who want a plant-based protein supplement, this product is made from a few different plant sources. It includes pea protein, organic hemp protein and sweet potato powder.

There are 4 grams of carbs in this powder, but three come from dietary fiber. That means your body won't absorb every single gram. There's 23 grams of protein per serving, which gives you a nice boost.

Whey Protein Powder

Long hailed as the most effective form of protein, whey is derived from cow's milk. Some people don't digest it very well, so be careful if you're trying it for the first time. Because it's one of the most popular types of protein powder, you can select among many more options for low-carb whey protein products than any other.

Isopure Zero/Low Carb

The Isopure low-carb whey protein brand is well-known and respected. The company's goal is to deliver some of the lowest-carb protein options on the market. They have a low-carb or zero-carb options, neither of which contains sugar. There's also a substantial 25 grams of protein per serving.

Quest Nutrition Protein Powder

Best-known for its protein bars, Quest Nutrition makes a low-carb whey protein powder that tastes impossibly delicious, according to the company's website. There are 2 grams of carbs, only 1 gram of sugar and 24 grams of protein per serving in this powder.

Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey

If you're looking for a big serving size of protein, this product may be your best bet. It has 30 grams of protein per serving and 4 grams of carbs with only 1 gram of sugar. As long as your body can handle whey protein, this is another excellent option to increase your protein intake without sacrificing carbohydrates.

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