Are you tired of bland and uninspiring protein shakes that rely solely on protein powders? They may be popular among weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts, but let’s face it – they’re not for everyone. If you want something a little more natural and wholesome, fear not! I’ve got you covered with a list of nutritious alternatives to protein powder.
Not only will I provide you with their nutritional information, but I’ll also throw in some tantalizing recipes to take your protein game to the next level. So say goodbye to boring–and hello to a world of flavor and nutrition!
Why You May Want to Build a Protein Smoothie Without Protein Powder
Some People are Sensitive to Protein Powder
Protein powder may cause digestive discomfort for some people. For starters, individuals with digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are more likely to experience discomfort after consuming protein powder.
Certain powders contain milk-based ingredients which can inflame the gut and trigger digestive discomfort. Protein powders contain no or minimal amounts of fiber, which can present other problems, especially for those with IBS.
Protein Powders May Contain Additives
Many protein powders contain more than just protein. Some contain added sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial flavors.
But that’s not all! In 2022, Harvard University published an article stating that “they may contain added sugar, calories, or even toxic chemicals.” The same article cited a report by the Clean Label Project which screened 134 protein powder products finding many that contained heavy metals, plastics, and pesticides.
That said, it’s difficult to say how much of a real impact these may have on your health. The authors of a 2020 study published in the journal Toxicology Reports found that the amounts of heavy metals present in all protein powders tested by the Clean Label Project did not increase the risk of health problems even when taking up to 3 servings a day. So it’s up to you – fortunately, there are other ways to add protein to your shakes if you prefer to avoid protein powder.
Alternatives to Protein Powder
Here are several protein-rich ingredients you can mix and match to boost the protein content of any shake or smoothie
Low in carbs, high in protein, a cup of the popular Lowfat Chobani Greek yogurt contains a whopping 20 grams of protein. However, if you find that a whole cup of Greek yogurt is too much for your shake, you can just use half a cup of yogurt and mix it with a cup of dairy or soy milk. This gives you almost all the protein you need for your shake.
Chia seeds are an excellent additive to protein shakes. They are tiny, almost flavorless, and packed with nutrition.
At only 2 net carbs and 4 grams protein per two tablespoon serving, they probably won’t provide all the protein you need from a protein shake, but they can be a helpful addition to get you closer to that amount.
Peanut butter is a staple for many people’s protein shakes. Most people love the taste and it is a well-balanced source of the three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
The key to peanut butter is to get a good, healthy brand. While all major peanut butter brands contain added sugars, some contain more than others. Some peanut butter brands contain vegetable or palm oil as well. So shop with care!
I know it can be confusing to choose a healthy peanut butter so I’ve dropped in some recommended brands to help you get started. They don’t contain the additives found in many brands.
A Target Brand, their Good & Gather Organic Peanut Butter contains peanuts only.
Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter only contains peanuts and salt.
Almond butter has a bold almond flavor. It’s a richer, nuttier flavor compared to peanut butter. While more people are used to, and prefer, the taste of peanut butter, almond butter has gained popularity in recent years.
The nutritional data will vary between brands. In general, it’s higher in calories when compared to almonds.
Almonds are a good source of:
- monounsaturated fats
- Vitamin E
- omega-3 fatty acids
It’s also creamier and may be more palatable for your protein shakes compared to raw almonds.
For best results, go with one of these options recommended by Stephanie.
Almonds are the only ingredient in Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Almond Butter.
Like the Trader Joe’s brand, Target’s Good & Gather brand only contains almonds.
The almonds we buy in stores have a slightly sweet flavor profile and a small handful of them provide a healthy protein boost to any shake. They are also well-balanced nutritiously.
A ¼ cup serving of almonds contain:
- 6 grams of protein
- 6 grams of carbohydrates
- 3.5 grams of dietary fiber
Almonds are a healthy source of Vitamin E and monounsaturated fats. The nut may lower LDL and total cholesterol. They have anti-inflammatory properties and can assist with blood sugar control due in part to their high magnesium content.
Don’t let their small size fool you – a mere quarter cup of oats packs a mighty punch of 6.6 grams of protein. This makes them a great add-in for protein shakes. Oats are full of iron and phosphorus, essential minerals for maintaining health. They also contain beta-glucan, an important type of dietary fiber known to help reduce LDL cholesterol.
Admittedly, they are carb-heavy. And it’s worth noting that they contain the antinutrient phytic acid, which binds to certain minerals like iron and zinc, making them difficult for the body to absorb. However, this is easily mitigated by eating a balanced and varied diet.
So go ahead and plop that quarter-cup scoop up of oats in your shake, knowing you are fueling your body with some great nutrition!
When you are building protein smoothie without protein powder, it helps to have a protein-rich liquid. Fairlife is a relatively new lactose-free, ultrafiltered milk.
Here is what we love about Fairlife:
- It contains 50% less sugar
- It contains 50% more protein
- It is lactose-free
Keep in mind that while it is lactose-free, it isn’t dairy free. Fairlife tastes almost exactly like regular milk because it is milk. But Fairlife has been through what the company calls an “ultrafiltered” process.
It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not! I started drinking it recently and, to be honest, I can’t tell any difference in taste.
Soy milk is a great, dairy-free liquid that can serve as a base for a great protein shake. Just 1 cup of soy milk contains almost 7 grams of protein. Unlike dairy milk, soy contains zero lactose sugar. While it may be a great milk for vegans, it tastes great to everyone!
Hemp seed is a great plant-based source of protein. In addition to muscle-building protein, hemp seeds contain healthy amounts of fiber that’s important for your digestive system.
They also contain all 9 essential amino acids*, making it a complete protein. The amino acids may also improve your cardiovascular health.
Hemp seeds have a mild flavor that won’t overpower other items in your protein shake. They have a sweet, nutty flavor that can easily be incorporated into many different protein drink recipes.
*Complete proteins contain all 9 “essential” amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own. Non-essential amino acids are not considered when using the term “complete”.
In addition to protein, lentils are a great source of folate and fiber. Because of the fiber content, adding lentils to your protein shakes can help you feel fuller, longer. Be careful, though. Like chia seeds, the fiber in lentils may cause moderate or even severe bloating in some people.
On the good side, the natural folate found in lentils may offer protection against cancer, as low folate levels are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers.
Personally, I don’t much care for cottage cheese. I want to like it. But I’ve tried it several times without success. If you like cottage cheese, it makes an excellent addition to a protein shake.
Cottage cheese is very protein dense. It is a great supply of:
- Vitamin B12
Compared to other dairy products, it has a more limited effect on your blood sugar, making it a better choice for those with diabetes.
Walnuts may be one of the healthiest nuts you can consume. They are packed with protein and polyunsaturated fat (“good” fat).
Enhancing your protein shake with walnuts may help lower your cholesterol. In a study published in 2018, a walnut-enhanced diet lowered participants total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and levels of apoprotein B – a protein linked to cardiovascular disease.
Now I’ll be honest, it’s going to be hard to add enough walnuts to reach a desired 20g – 30g of protein per shake. They’ll simply be too many walnuts in your shake for it to be drinkable. So you’ll want to use other ingredients to get you to your goal. But walnuts are a nutritious way to enhance your shake’s protein content.
By tossing in a few walnuts, you’ll boost your protein shake’s folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and ellagic acid. All of which do your body good!
Tell Us What You Think
Give us your opinion in the comments below. Let us know what you like or dislike about any of the ingredients we’ve listed or feel free to recommend your own ingredients.
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