How Do Protein Shakes Affect Your Cholesterol?

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A close-up of a woman drinking a protein shake. (Image: Alliance/iStock/Getty Images)

If you're trying to gain weight for medical reasons, or as a bodybuilder, protein shakes can be a quick way to take in the calories and nutrients you need to do so. If you're worried about your cholesterol levels, knowing how foods like protein shakes interact with your cholesterol count can be an important part of seeing to your circulatory health.

Cholesterol Basics

Your body makes two kinds of choelsterol, LDL and HDL. Low-density lipoprotein is bad cholesterol, the kind that raises your risk for heart diesease, heart attack and stroke. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is good for you. It cleans contaminants -- including harmful LDL -- out of your blood. Your body makes LDL cholesterol when you take in saturated fats, and HDL cholesterol in response to unsaturated fats in your diet.

Protein Shakes

Protein shakes provide a convenient dietary supplement by allowing you to drink high concentration of protein, mixed with milk or water. Each brand or preparation of protein shake has its own specific recipe, but most use whey or soy protein as a base ingredient.

Nutrition Information

They base ingredient in a protein shake has the highest effect on shake, and the fat content of that ingredient has the highest effect on your cholesterol. According to the USDA, a soy protein shake contains about 0.1 g of saturated fat and 0.7 g of unsaturated fat per 30-oz serving. A similar serving of whey protein shake contains about 2 g of saturated fat and no unsaturated fat.

Cholesterol and Nutrition

A soy protein shake has far more unsaturated fat than unsaturated, and is unlikely to increase your levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Whey protein, by contrast, contains a high amount of saturated fat and may increase your cholesterol count. As with many other foods, pay close attention to the specific ingredients and nutrition information for a protein shake if you're watching your cholesterol.

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