Perilous protein powder

Protein supplements, often marketed as essential for muscle building and enhanced athletic performance, have raised concerns about potential health risks and questionable efficacy.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

HYDERABAD: Are you or someone you know taking protein powders? Then this information is for you. The ICMR’s 2024 dietary guidelines warn against protein powders, saying they are unnecessary and can cause serious health issues with prolonged use. Let’s understand why with the help of experts.

What are protein powders?

G Sushma, Clinical Dietitian at CARE Hospitals, explains, “Protein powders are derived from sources like eggs, milk (casein or whey protein), soybeans, peas, grains, potatoes, and hemp. They may also contain additives such as thickeners, artificial flavours, additional sugars, vitamins, and minerals. Each scoop can contain 10 to 30 grams of protein. Protein content is generally higher in supplements aimed at muscle growth compared to those for weight loss.” Protein supplements, often marketed as essential for muscle building and enhanced athletic performance, have raised concerns about potential health risks and questionable efficacy.

Health risks

Dr Sri Karan Uddesh Tanugula, Consultant General Physician at Yashoda Hospitals, highlights the risks of excessive protein intake from supplements, which can lead to kidney damage. The kidneys must work harder to excrete the nitrogen from amino acids, increasing the risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition indicated that high-protein diets might exacerbate kidney problems, especially in individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Additionally, protein supplements may contain harmful additives and contaminants. Dr Tanugula cites the “Clean Label Project,” which found that many protein powders contain heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, along with other toxins such as BPA (bisphenol A). These substances can cause neurotoxicity, cancer, and endocrine disruption.

Another concern is the imbalance caused by consuming isolated protein sources. Whole foods provide a balanced intake of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which are often missing in protein powders. Relying on supplements can lead to nutrient deficiencies and gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation, due to the lack of fibre.

Effectiveness of protein supplements

The evidence supporting the superiority of protein supplements over whole foods is weak. A meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that protein supplementation does not significantly enhance muscle mass or strength gains compared to a protein-rich diet from natural sources. This questions the necessity of protein supplements for the average person engaging in regular exercise.

Long-term reliance on protein supplements can alter metabolism and promote an unhealthy relationship with food. Many users may view supplements as a quick fix rather than focusing on balanced, nutritious meals, which can undermine overall dietary quality and lead to poor eating habits.

Alternative natural protein sources

Sujatha Stephen, RD, Chief Dietician at Yashoda Hospitals, suggests that protein should come from natural foods made at home. She notes that many Indians, especially vegetarians, often have insufficient daily protein intake. Vegetarians should include millets or cereals, paneer at least three times a week, and rajma, chole, beans, and peas daily, along with milk and milk products. Non-vegetarians should aim to consume at least two eggs daily and chicken or fish at least three times a week, preferably cooked at home with fewer spices.

Some alternatives include

  •  Dry fruits powder

  •  Millets

  •  Eggs

  •  Paneer

  •  Chicken

  •  Fish

  •  Mutton

  •  Rajma

  •  Chole

  •  Peas

  •  Soya paneer

  •  Soya powder

  •  Curd

  •  Greek yogurt

  • Cheese

  • Milk

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