Sugar is lurking in many so-called healthy foods and beverages, from protein bars to vitamin water and fruit juices. Luckily, it's easy to find protein shakes without sugar, artificial sweeteners or allergens. Just make sure you check the label for hidden sugars like dextrose or fructose.
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The Dangers of Sugar
Do you ever wonder how much sugar is in your food? Nearly 75 percent of packaged foods contain this additive in one form or another, states a November 2012 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Considering this fact, it's not surprising that most Americans consume a staggering 42.5 teaspoons of sugar per day.
This sneaky ingredient comes in many forms, not just table sugar. Many times, it's listed as dextrose, glucose, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup or molasses on food labels.
Brown sugar, coconut sugar and other "natural" sugars are not better either. Fructose, for example, promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, a type of adipose tissue linked to heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes.
In a five-year cohort study, the risk of cardiovascular disease was 38 percent higher in adults who consumed 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar compared to those consuming only 8 percent of their daily calories from sugar. These findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014.
Is Aspartame a Better Choice?
Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, carry potential risks, too. These additives may increase sugar cravings and promote the consumption of artificially flavored foods.
But that's not all. A review featured in the journal Stroke in March 2019 indicates that artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) may affect cardiometabolic health. These drinks are associated with a higher risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and death from all causes. Researchers don't fully understand the causal mechanisms behind these risks, but they emphasize water as the healthiest substitute for sugary drinks.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Sweeteners
A meta-analysis published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in August 2017 has found no association between aspartame and metabolic health markers, such as insulin, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Furthermore, this sugar substitute is unlikely to cause cancer.
Overall, most studies on non-caloric sweeteners are conflicting, so it's hard to tell whether or not these additives are safe in the long run.
Best Protein Shakes Without Sugar
Protein shakes have emerged as a healthy choice for gym-goers and active individuals. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, these products may enhance athletic performance and speed recovery from training. Not all protein shakes are created equal, though. Most brands contain either sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Finding a quality protein powder is even more difficult for those who are allergic or intolerant to soy. These supplements are often produced in facilities that handle soy and other allergens, so there is a risk of cross-contamination. According to the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers are not required to list this information on the label. The safest option is to choose a protein powder labeled "soy-free" or "allergen-free."
The only way to figure out what's in your shake is to read the label. If you're looking for protein shakes without soy, you have several options:
- Whey protein
- Egg protein
- Beef protein
- Pea protein
- Hemp protein
- Brown rice protein
Whey protein, for example, may help build lean mass and overall strength when combined with weight training. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it's just as effective as beef or chicken protein for increasing muscle strength.
Again, make sure you read the label, especially if you're allergic to soy. This ingredient is often listed under different names, such as hydrolyzed plant protein or textured vegetable protein. Additionally, both natural and artificial flavorings may contain soy.
Shopping for soy-free protein shakes without sugar or aspartame can be a challenge. Ideally, opt for unflavored varieties or protein powders containing stevia, a natural sweetener that has been shown safe in over 200 studies.
Bob's Red Mill Protein & Fiber Nutritional Booster, for example, is one of the few protein shakes without soy, sugar or aspartame. It's also dairy-free, making it ideal for vegans. Each serving (one-third of a cup) provides 20 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber plus probiotics and omega-3s.
Another option is the Warrior Blend from Sunwarrior. It's organic, soy-free, gluten-free and sugar-free. This formula contains hemp seeds, yellow peas, coconut and goji berries, offering 16 to 18 grams of plant-based protein per scoop, depending on the flavor.
Other protein shakes without artificial sweeteners, sugar or soy are John's Killer Protein Grass-Fed Irish Isolate and Promix Unflavored Casein Protein Powder. Although these brands come with a higher price tag than some other varieties, they are a safe choice for those who wish to eat clean.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Use of Caloric and Noncaloric Sweeteners in US Consumer Packaged Foods, 2005-2009"
- New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services: "How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised!"
- Annual Review of Medicine: "Role of Fructose-Containing Sugars in the Epidemics of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults"
- Harvard Medical School: "Artificial Sweeteners: Sugar-Free, but at What Cost?"
- Stroke: "Artificial Sweeteners, Real Risks"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Metabolic Effects of Aspartame in Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials"
- American Cancer Society: "Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Whey Protein"
- Mayo Clinic: "Soy Allergy"
- FDA: "What You Need to Know About Food Allergies"
- Food and Nutrition: "Stevia, Nature’s Zero-Calorie Sustainable Sweetener"
- Bob's Red Mill: "Protein & Fiber Nutritional Booster"
- Sunwarrior: "Warrior Blend"
- John's Killer Protein: "Grass Fed Irish Isolate + DOLCE – Strawberry Cheesecake"
- Promix: "Unflavored Casein Protein Powder"
- USDA Nutrient Database: Nutrient Data for Basil, Fresh