It is surprisingly tricky to find the best paleo protein powder. Have you ever started a project thinking that it will be pretty easy and straightforward, and then finding that it is anything but? Well, that’s what happened to me with this review.
What I found was that, although we might think we know what the paleo diet is, "the devil is in the detail". There are all sorts of little things that make the difference between paleo and non-paleo.
And this is certainly true when you start to look at protein powders that can be used by those on strict paleo diets.
Right at the outset, I must say that the products I reviewed all seem very good for anyone looking to maintain health, support muscle growth and repair, and also for those wanting to lose weight. However, when you assess them from the paleo point of view, it gets more complicated.
I am going to give a very quick overview of the paleo diet, and of what you should be looking for when you buy a protein powder. The I’ll take a fairly in-depth look at some protein powder brands, to show you why I think they passed the paleo test.
What Is a Paleo Diet?
Simply put, those who believe in following a strict paleo diet say that we should eat only what our hunter-gatherer, cavemen ancestors ate. They base this belief on the fact that humans survived for 140,000 years on that diet, and our ancestors, by all accounts, were lean, mean, tall and fit. For the past 10,000 years our diet has changed, mainly because of the introduction of agriculture.
Paleo’s say that our bodies are not adapted to the grains and sugars that have now become part of our diet. And that doesn’t even take into account all the other more recent changes to processed food, food additives, strange fats, GMO, grain-fed beef and chickens, pesticides and herbicides.
The picture of many modern people – overweight, stressed, lacking sleep, beset with chronic illnesses – is, they believe, the result of this change in diet.
What Can You Eat on a Paleo Diet?
Shifting to a paleo diet means removing the foods that damage our health – grains, legumes and dairy – and adding more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants by eating significantly more vegetables.
A simple summary of what is and isn’t allowed on the paleo diet is shown in this table:
Okay to Eat
Processed Food & Sugars
Nuts & Seeds
Taken from the website of Robb Wolf.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Some of the health benefits are given as:
List of foods in the paleo diet
- Stable blood sugar
- Burn off of stored fat
- Reduced allergies
- Balanced energy throughout the day
- Clear skin and better teeth
- Improved sleep
- More efficient workouts
Some studies have shown that a paleo diet can actually reverse the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. It is known to be helpful for cardiovascular disease, auto-immune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases.
If you want to learn more about the diet, you can look at the work of Prof. Loren Cordain, who was the founder of the paleo movement. You might also want to look at some of what Chris Kresser has to say about being a bit more flexible and focusing on what works for a modern-day person, rather than being obsessed with our ancestors. He also has some really good and straightforward videos about the benefits of the paleo diet.
A really amusing and informative video, from a different source, is useful for understanding why we get fat.
So, What Are You Allowed to Eat?
Okay to Eat
Implications for your diet choices
You can eat most fruits, but limit them if you want to lose weight because of the sugar
This is the primary food type you should be eating. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Tubers like sweet potatoes and yams are good to replenish glycogen stores after exercise.
The meat eaten by our ancestors was lean, with high levels of Omega 3. The high saturated fat in today’s animals is often related to the grain diet. So, grass-fed is important
Omega 3 fats are important here. Also, fish should be wild, to avoid mercury and other toxins in farmed fish.
Nuts & seeds
High in calories, so there are limits to how much you can have
From nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish oil, grass-fed beef
You are looking for nutrient-dense foods, not carb-dense foods. The key understanding is that the same number of calories from tubers like sweet potatoes or yams will provide a very different energy source than the same number of calories from a packet of potato crisps.
There are tricks to the diet, including the balance of the food eaten. You can get it wrong. But it might be worth learning. The alternative is to continue to feel tired, to struggle with weight, or even to be ill.
What Does the "Non-paleo" List Mean for Protein Powders?
There really are two things you must check very carefully if you are looking for a protein powder:
- Source of protein
This means that you need to read labels very carefully, and also understand what you can/can’t eat. As you will see from the following table, many of the ingredients we’ve become accustomed to seeing in protein powders are on the "non-paleo" list:
Implications for choice of protein powder
Non-dairy means excluding all whey-based and casein protein powders. (There is some debate about this, and many "paleo protein powders" are whey-based.)
Only grass-fed beef or chicken to be used. Rice is not paleo.
Processed Food & Sugars
Zero sugar. Zero chemicals
Legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupin bean, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind.
This means that very popular types of protein powders can’t be used – especially if based on peas, peanuts or soy. (This is even though paleo’s regard peas as the least damaging of the legumes.)
Important to look at fillers and "fibers" in protein powders.
Did you know that even something as simple as vanilla essence has alcohol in it? (This is so little that it would still be regarded as "paleo")
What Are the Sources of Protein for the Best Paleo Protein Powders?
If you cannot use whey, casein, soy, peas, rice, what is there? You will have to look for the source of your protein from meat products (beef and eggs are the ones most available now) or a vegetarian version from vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Both beef and eggs have most of the 22 amino acids we need to build muscle and repair cells. Surprisingly, some vegetable and seeds contain a wide variety of amino acids too (pumpkin seeds have 18). Generally, though, you might need to have more than one vegetable to make sure you get all of the amino acids.
Comment on Beef Supplements
I’d like to make some comments about beef supplements.
- It’s really important to make sure that you are getting protein from real meat – and not just the unwanted bits like hooves and ears. This is mainly collagen and gelatin, and has little protein value. It’s cheaper for the manufacturers, and, legally, they can call it "beef protein".
- There’s a strong cross-over in the target markets for beef protein powder between those on paleo diets, and those who participate in high impact sports or body-building (perhaps because paleo’s tend to be health and fitness focused?) However, this means that there are often formulations and ingredients that are non-paleo. It’s really important to read labels and research the companies.
With this basic background, let us have a look at the protein powders I reviewed and the recommendations I have made. I hope that this will give you a better idea of what you should be looking for. (And, if you are looking for a "paleo protein powder", I hope my list will help you to decide what to buy.)
Product Review: the Best Paleo Protein Powders
My Ranking of Best Paleo Protein Powder
This is how I ranked the products:
Only one ingredient. Best price. Vegan.
Simple product – only 3 ingredients
Very good ingredients, except flavoring which is non-paleo
Good quality protein. Some query about the additives.
Would be scored very highly, if we were sure that the labeling was honest.
I think the bottom line is that to be ranked the best paleo protein powder, then the fewer the ingredients the better. In fact, the best is to have only one ingredient – the protein source. That’s why my number one spot went to the pumpkin seed product.
I hope you will try some of these brands, and let me know what you think of them.
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