Clean Eating Protein Powder

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If you’ve ever wondered about protein powders and whether or not they are clean, wonder no longer. The fact is, none of them are clean. It’s true. There is no such thing as clean eating protein powder. Oh the horror!!! I know, I know. But think about it…

You can’t go out to a tree in your garden and pick protein powder. Nobody can milk a cow and get protein powder out of the udder. You can’t just pick leaves, dry them, grind them and get protein powder. It just doesn’t work like that.

Clean Eating Protein Powder

So What Do I Do Without A Clean Eating Protein Powder?

Okay, now that I’ve rocked your world, I’m sure I will probably get a ton of comments defending certain protein powders, and the truth is, there are some that are better than others.

My criteria for protein powder:

My approach has always been that if I can’t make it at home and get something that is pretty darn similar, then it’s too processed and not clean. I could pretty easily make tomato sauce at home. So as long as the ingredients on a can of tomato sauce are clean, then I don’t really think twice about buying it unless there is some obvious reason to reconsider. But I can’t duplicate the process at home to make protein powder. So that tells me that it’s not clean.

Another truth is this:

Most clean eaters who use protein powders will never give them up. It just isn’t going to happen. The convenience of a meal in a shake bottle is just too great, particularly when there is highly valued protein involved.

So the only penance I can give for this treasonous blog post is to share with you the protein powders that I have found to be fairly decent, even if they aren’t truly clean.

THE CLEANEST PROTEIN POWDERS I’VE FOUND:

Natural Factors – Unflavored Whey Protein Powder (amazon affiliate link)
I searched Whole Foods high and low for a protein powder than had relatively few ingredients AND ingredients I recognized. This brand came the closest of all the whey powders I found there. Just be sure it’s unflavored, because the flavored variety has a whole bunch of additions that made me raise an eyebrow.

  • Affordability Rating: Medium, this one is pretty “middle of the road”.
  • Flavor Rating: The good thing about buying unflavored powder is that you can flavor it any way you like. So this one gets an A+ in that department.
  • Texture Rating: I have found that whey powders always blend into a shake really well and this one is no exception. It’s a good choice where texture is concerned.

Manitoba Harvest – Hemp Protein Powder (amazon affiliate link)
Of all the protein powders I looked into, this one had the least amount of processing. So yes, this would the the “cleanest” among all the powders I looked at.

  • Affordability Rating: Fair and affordable for the amount and quality of product you get.
  • Flavor Rating: I will admit, the flavor takes a little getting used to. It’s not terrible, it’s just different. You’ll have to play around until you find the additions you like best when making your shake.
  • Texture Rating: This powder is a little thicker in density. It’s not impossible to tolerate, but it is noticeable.

Shakeology
I will admit that the whole “sales pitchy” aspect of Shakeology and the Beach Body company was a little off putting for me. That sort of “hard selling” and pushiness has always made me turn the other way. But all things considered, I found this shake to be pretty darn high in nutrients, even if the ingredient list is a bit longer. ( I have personally tried the chocolate and the strawberry flavors)

  • Affordability Rating: Expensive (at least to me it is).
  • Flavor Rating: I couldn’t get past the flavor. I guess I’m just too used to fruit smoothies. The flavor tasted very “chemical” to me. But that could just be me. I’m a little overly sensitive to that sort of thing.
  • Texture Rating: This one does pretty well with texture. It’s pretty similar to the whey powder in that it blends up nicely.

So long story short, if you must use a protein powder, choose the best quality powder you can afford. This is truly one area where you get what you pay for. Don’t skimp if your goal is to get nutrients from a shake.

CLEAN EATING RECIPE THAT USE PROTEIN POWDER:

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92 Comments

  1. Have you tried any vegetable based protein powers? I can’t do soy, whey or hemp but have found pea proteins to be ok.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Beth – I have not, but the same concepts would still apply. I’ll take a look next time I’m at the store.

  2. I totally agree!! I am not the world’s healthiest eater but I do what I can. But I always find it funny that the people that claim not to eat processed foods use protein powder and eat tofu! I tried to use protein powder in my smoothies but I always skip it now because most of them have either sucralose or stevia in them and I can’t get past the chemical, bitter taste.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Joann – Ya and most stevia that is used in these types of products is definitely not clean.

  3. Lisa Williams says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve gotten a lot of crap from some people about the protein powder I use. I have to have 50-60 grams of protein every day due to having gastric bypass. That’s really all I care about in the powder….I use Pure Protein. It has a great flavor to me (I had a little Trop 50 and frozen fruit) and the price is affordable for me. I eat very very little processed food and my husband and I are starting to eat more clean. I look forward to reading more on your blog!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lisa – Ya, it’s a whole different ball of wax after that surgery. Protein is critical.

  4. ang thibeau says:

    almased is what I use, what do you think about that…

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ang – I don’t know this specific brand, but if it’s a powdered protein shake, then my above criteria would still apply to my opinion of it.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ang – I don’t know this specific brand, but if it’s a powdered protein shake, then my above criteria would still apply to my opinion of it.

  5. Thanks for a great post! When I start to waiver on my clean eating I tend to think shakes and only because I’m feeling overwhelmed at cooking. Between the fact that I won’t ‘do’ soy and the fact that you are right…shakes aren’t ‘clean’ I won’t bend to the dark side…LOL!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lorie – Ya, that soy is not a great way to go. Stay strong! LOL

  6. Hi Tiffany,

    Just curious about the ingredients in mine: Cocoa, natural flavors, guar gum, silica, salt, stevia leaf extract and monk fruit extract. I ask because I am not sure what guar gum or silica are. – Love your posts.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      JJ – Well, it’s not clean and the term “natural flavors” rarely means “natural” in the way you or I would interpret it. So this one is highly suspect. But again, no protein powder is clean anyway, so it’s all what you deem acceptable.

  7. Tera’s Whey was recommended to me because it is grassfed, but it is still processed.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lauren – It’s not clean, but it looks like it could be one of the better options for sure.

  8. What about the Arbonne line of protein? It is made with pea protein and the company stands by their use of natural ingredients.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jennifer – I’m sure they do! I read the ingredient list on one package and it was far from clean. But again, no protein powder is truly clean. So it’s all about what you deem acceptable for your life and health.

  9. Melanie Zimmerman says:

    Tiffany, have you ever seen Try About Time? It’s the cleanest I’ve ever found- with five ingredients or less!!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Melanie – No, this would be closer to the bottom of my list. It may have fewer ingredients, but the xanthan gum and “natural flavors” are a big red flag. That’s my own personal opinion though. Do what’s right for you!

  10. I make a mixture of items I purchase at Bob’s Red Mill, a factory which takes fresh grains and other items and processes them using old fashioned millstones. The store is local, but the products are sold all over the US. It is an employee owned factory and store.

    To make the protein powder, I mix 2 parts wheat germ, hemp seeds, and ground flax seeds with 1 part brewer’s yeast. Sometimes I put in 1/4 part garbonzo bean or other bean flour to create a “complete protein” as discussed in the book, “Diet for a Small Planet”. I keep this mixture in a large tub (gallon sized which I got when I purchased a gallon of fresh yogourt) in my freezer. It could be refrigerated, but we lack space in the fridge so we keep it in the freezer. Then, each morning we prepare a pot of whole grain cereal, which we also purchase from Bob’s Red Mill. We buy flakes and mixtures of grains of all types. We just put some water into our pot and add the grain. Mix and cook in a double boiler to avoid sticking of the cereal in the pot. This AM we had a mix of extra thick oatmeal, a bit of buckwheat cereal (high in fiber), and a mix of grains called “8 grain”. Another favorite is polenta mixed with teff and oat bran. We serve the cereal with rice milk or almond milk or sometimes just with apple juice. Today we added a banana, some cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of my protein mix. You can add whatever fruit you like. We do not add sweeteners or butter. It is not needed. I love to put in just a bit of ginger some mornings. The protein powder mix I make is also great in a smoothie. Do not add too much bean flour or brewer’s yeast if you plan to make smoothies because they have a strong flavor. I like the flavor, but my elderly mother doesn’t! So experiment.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Toby – Sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. I just want to add that I LOVE receiving the wonderful recipes and ideas from The Gracious Pantry. I have made lots of the recipes, and, sometimes, I vary the recipes using the concept but basing them on ingredients we have to hand.

    At Christmas, we made some delicious protein bars from your recipes, and our guests loved them, and those we gave for gifts also were very pleased!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Toby – That’s wonderful! I’m so happy everyone enjoyed them! 😀

  12. Isagenix is what I use….. Organic, Gluten and Soy Free and 3rd party tested!!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Mandy – Great!

  13. Thanks for the post! I love your blog and wanted to share another source I found: http://www.truenutrition.com/

    I bought from them recently and really liked it. You basically can create your own mix of protein types and additives (or lack thereof) and the cost seems to be much lower than a lot of the gigantor tubs. I got 4lbs of powder (grass-fed whey and non-GMO pea protein) without flavoring or sweetener for like $40.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Angelina – Cool!

  14. Melanie Zimmerman says:

    Hmm..I’ll have to research Xanthan Gum more.. I have a bag in my pantry and use it often in my paleo recipes. I understand it is a string of bacteria that is allowed to ferment (much like my kefir, etc). Although not clean, why do you personally stear clear of this ingredient? I’d love to know your thoughts. Thanks!!

    “It is named for the bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris, which plays a crucial role in this description. Technically speaking, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, which is just a fancy way to say “a string of multiple sugars.” To create xanthan gum, the Xanthomonas campestris bacterium is allowed to ferment on a sugar. The result is a gel that is then dried and milled to create the powder substance.”

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Melanie – I avoid it because most xanthan gum these days is made from GMO corn. At least that’s what I’ve read.

  15. I found Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Powder is clean! From what I researched there was no additives and it is organic . Blend it with almond milk, banana, berries, splash of orange juice and its not bad 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amanda – It’s not just what’s in the ingredient list though. It’s HOW the hemp is processed.

  16. Melanie Zimmerman says:

    Ah!! And it’s hard to tell too since the ingredients on the bag only list “Xantham Gum”!! Thanks for the heads up Tiffany!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Melanie – My pleasure!

  17. Thanks for this post – I am vegetarian, and have extensive food allergies/intolerances (wheat, gluten, corn, dairy and soy being the most serious)… I LOVE that you feature Manitoba Harvest hemp powder! I use it most days. I agree that you need to play with combos to get the right texture… I actually found that it’s great with anything AS LONG as it includes a banana… without a banana, it is too gritty for my taste.

    🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Barbara – That was my experience as well. Bananas help!

  18. I have had people trying to get me to try the Shakeology and even some people that are in your FB group have emailed me about it when I mentioned I was doing the Body By Vi. They claimed it was clean, blah, blah, blah. It IS packed with nutrients, but I would HARDLY call it clean.

    Do I think it’s one of the better shake systems out there? Definitely. Even better than the Body By Vi which is what I’m currently doing.

    Do I think it’s a clean shake system? ABSOLUTELY not.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sara – I never said it was. In fact, I said just the opposite.

  19. Hi Tiffanie – Love your website, it’s one of the few worth reading, and this article is no exception.

    I struggled with finding enough protein in non-processed sources as well. I hit on soaked sunflower seeds – raw, organic sunflower seeds that are soaked in water overnight. In the morning I rinse it until the water runs clear, then I mix it in my blender to make a ‘milk’ of sorts. 1/2 cup of soaked sunflower seeds is about 22g of protein, and a great base for a smoothie.

    It’s great for vegans, raw foodists, clean eaters and vegetarians AND it’s fairly inexpensive. There is some texture if you don’t have a Vitamix (I don’t), but it’s totally worth it.

    It’s the most non-processed protein supplement I have found, and it has healthy fats and nutrients to keep you full.

    Just my .02,
    Best Regards,
    Rosalyn

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Rosalyn – I didn’t know that! Thank you! 😀

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Christa – I can’t find the ingredient list on either one. Sorry…

  20. RC @ Going Dad says:

    This is a great post, thank you!
    I am one of those guys who avoids processed foods, but am guilty for using protein powders. I buy mine in bulk and the only ingredients are whey isolate and soy lecithin. I’m not a fan of the soy part, but it’s the best short list I could find.
    I’m curious, do you have a certain stevia you prefer or do you stay away from all of it? I have used Kal brand, but I think they add maltodextrin now. I’m currently using stevia powder from Bulk Supplements where the only ingredient is pure stevia. I’d love to have your take on this too.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      RC – I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. If you use it and it works for you, then great! 🙂 As for Stevia, I’m currently growing my own to see what it’s like to make it, but my plant isn’t big enough yet to harvest it. I’ve heard of other people using Kal as well, but if they add maltodextrin that would definitely not be clean. It sounds like the bulk stevia you use is fine. I mean, honestly, if stevia (even the not-clean stuff) is the worst you are getting, you’re doing pretty good. I believe the liquid is less processed than the powder, but when it comes to things like this where you are using such small amounts, it’s kind of like splitting hairs. I’ve used the powder stuff myself on many occasions. I think as clean eaters, sometimes we can go a little overboard on the smaller things when it’s really the majority that counts most.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jenn – It’s not clean and few of the ingredients give me pause. But again, do what’s right for you!

  21. Great post! I had to chuckle when you made the comment about people who will not give up their protein powder…I am one of those people!!! I use mine in my smoothie with fruit Monday through Friday…it just is easy for me to whip up quickly as I am heading out the door and it fills me up.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Beth – I think that’s the case for most people who use it. You are not alone! 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Trinette – No protein powder is clean, and I hadn’t even considered the angle mentioned in the article. I don’t know a lot about that kind of stuff, but it makes sense to me.

  22. I agree that no protein powder could be honestly clean, I use http://www.gardenoflife.com. I like but I can’t be sure how it measures up I’m very new to clean eating.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Raeann – If you can post a link to the exact product you use and it’s ingredients, I can give it a look.

  23. What about Isagenix? It’s protein is undenatured from Australia grain fed cows! No chemicals ! Absolutely pure! Check into it! Isagenix.com it is very clean!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      J Jamey – No, it’s not clean. Perhaps it’s better quality than some, but it’s still not clean.

  24. Any thoughts on Spiru-tein?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Stacey – If it’s a powder, it’s not clean. I don’t know the brand personally, so I can’t speak to it’s nutrition value.

  25. Here Tiffany, thank you for taking a look. I tried to get just the nutrition facts but I couldn’t figure out how, haha. This is the page for the product and the facts are just a click to the right hand side of the page. 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Raeann – For protein powder, it looks pretty nutritious!

  26. That’s awesome! Thank you for looking at it for me!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Raeann – My pleasure!

  27. Just ordered the Natural Factors! I can’t wait to get it and throw a scoop in my daily smoothie!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sarah – Great!

  28. I believe Garden of Life, Raw Protein powder is clean. It’s USDA Organic, Non GMO Project Verfified, and supporting Organic Farms. It comes in Vegan.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Cheryl – I don’t believe it is. It’s a powder, so it’s processed in some way. What that process is, I’m not sure, and that’s what I’d have to look into.

  29. This is a very helpful article in looking for a clean protein powder. I began my clean eating journey with Paleo several months ago, and then became interested in Shakeology (and I will be upfront and say that I am now a BeachBody Coach and am therefore biased here).
    I’ve never considered Shakeology a protein powder, because that is not its goal at all. It’s not considered a supplement. In contrast, it is considered to provide, in a single dose, all the vitamins and nutrients one’s body needs for the day and would not receive by simply eating clean. So even when I’m eating my best Paleo meals, Shakeology is giving me what I’m not getting from my kitchen, in a natural way. There’s even a Vegan option if we’re being really picky. So, yes, it *is* “expensive,” therefore, when compared to protein powders (part of my argument is that this is a faulty category for comparison purposes). At $4 a serving, I consider it well worth it for what I’m getting 🙂 I enjoy your website and refer to it often, thanks for posting!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sarah – Not to be argumentative, but what you describe there is exactly a supplement. Your description is exactly what a supplement is and does. I also don’t feel that people who are Vegan are “picky”. It’s a life choice. But it’s always been my perspective that if you are truly eating clean, chances are, you’re getting a lot of nutrients. Especially if you are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Either way, it’s a personal choice to use it or not use it. My point with this article is simply to say that it is not clean by it’s very nature. Again, using it is a personal choice. But I’m happy it’s working for you! 😀

  30. Very interesting…sometimes I forget it’s not just how short & natural the ingredient list is, but also the processing of those ingredients. This is the brand I use…but I like reading about all the different brands in the comments

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leslie – Yes, it’s very much about the processing of ingredients. A jar of sauce could have 40 ingredients, but if none of them are truly processed (other than being cooked to make the sauce), then it’s clean. The reverse is true as well. You can have a two ingredient item, but those ingredients can be just awful.

  31. Butterfly77 says:

    What about Herbalife Healthy Meal and Protein Powder? Do you think it’s a good selection for being close to clean? I think it’s soy based…

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Butterfly77 – It’s most likely not clean, but if you want to post the ingredients here, I can take a look.

  32. What are your thoughts about Betty Lou’s?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amie – It would not be my first choice.

  33. Great informative article!

    What are your thoughts on Bare Blends?

    It contains very few ingredients.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Oscar – I would not use this one. Sorry. :/

  34. The cleanest protein powder i’ve found… Raw Whey Protein Isolate.
    literally has only one ingredient… and yes i agree it’s still not actually clean, but with 100% Whey protein it’s a win in my book… (the unflavoured one only of course)
    plus for some random reason i love the taste of this stuff?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      T – If it works for you, I say go for it!

  35. My family and I recently started eating healthier. I found an awesome protein powder called YES by Yoli. My family loves it…..both the vanilla and chocolate. Have you rated this one yet?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Mary Jo – No, I’ve never seen it or heard of it.

  36. I LOVE Shakeology!!! If you know how to fix it, it’s taste and texture are great! It’s not a protein shake. Oh, and you get what you pay for!

  37. What are your thoughts on PVL

    Thanks

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lenal – This would not be at the top of my list. Sorry.

  38. I really like Dr.Mercola’s whey protein. I only buy the unflavored kind. I don’t like to use it often but when I’m in a pinch it’s my go to. 🙂
    It has 2 ingredients (whey protein, and sunflower lecithin). And it’s certified GMO and pesticide and chemical free.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kristine – Sounds like one of the better options. Still not clean, but better! 🙂

  39. I use a organic rice protein powder, im not home right now but I think the only ingredient is sprouted whole grain brown rice, the brand is nutribiotic, what are your thoughts on this one

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Heather – In this case, it would be more about the processing than the ingredients. If it’s a powder, it was processed to get it that way. So it wouldn’t be clean. But that being said, if brown rice is the only ingredient, that is the cleanEST protein powder I’ve ever heard of!

  40. I get milk protein powder directly from the processor. I have had it analyzed and it is 92% pure protein – good enough for me. And by the way – cows don’t have utters… they have udders. HA!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kelly – Dang spell check! LOL! As for the protein powder, it’s not about the protein content, it’s about the processing. At least for clean eating.

  41. So great to see that my go-to shake made your list. I’ve been using it everyday for three years. I have done my research and I know how it is sourced and I know that extreme care is taken in keeping the integrity of the Whole Foods. I also love that it tastes like dessert!!!! Thank you so much for your research.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Michelle – My pleasure!

  42. May I suggest a protein powder? Plant Fusion is the cleanest protein powder I have come across. It comes in several flavors; vanilla bean, natural (unflavored), chocolate, chocolate raspberry and cookies n creme. It is 100% plant based and is free of diary, soy, gluten, GMOs and animal/animal by-products. All the flavors are quite good. Very clean tasting and not syrupy sweet. Plant Fusion also has an organic version, if organic ingredients are important to you. If you go to their website, they have sample packs you can purchase or check out your local health food store. As a side note, I am not an employee of Plant Fusion, but a long time customer of their products.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Danielle – Thanks! Although I question how clean something is when it’s flavored as cookies n creme. What do they use to add that flavor?

      1. The sweeteners are listed as fructose, cocoa, natural cookies and creme flavors (meaning they are from plant sources), stevia, silica and guar gum. Hope that helps.

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