A good alternative is protein powder, but there are so many options available out there. Where do you start?
How about here...
Why protein powder?
You should know by now that protein may be the most important macronutrient in your diet. Throw some protein powder in a fruit and veggie smoothie and you've got a quick and healthy snack that's super convenient. Beyond this, there are a lot of health benefits related to this power powder.
The more research is done, the more links are being drawn between a diet that includes quality protein supplements and reduced cancer rates, improved immunity, lower stress hormone response, better liver function and digestion. It's also been studied as a tool for combatting HIV.
So what do you need to know about picking the right kind?
Concentrate vs Isolate
Simple enough, concentrate is actually a lower protein concentration (less than 90%) when compared to isolate (90% - 96%).
With a lower protein concentration there's more room for things like lactose (sugar) and fats. Sounds bad but along with that there are also higher levels of specific growth factors in concentrate vs isolate. These growth factors have been linked to improved immunity and digestion in some studies.
An Isolate will be a higher purity source, which means that it's primary purpose of protein synthesis in the body is more likely to occur. But guess what? If you're not a bodybuilder you may not care that much.
Conclusion: Isolates generally cost a bit more than concentrates and are lacking some of the added health benefits. Unless you're a bodybuilder or a high level athlete I recommend going with a quality concentrate.
Soy, Whey, Casein, Veggie -- Does it really matter? Personally this comes down to a tolerance thing more than anything.
Whey and Casein proteins are sourced from milk and as a result some people have a sensitivity towards these types of proteins. Whey is a faster acting protein where as casein is a slower acting form. That means that whey is going to be a great recovery drink after exercise where as casein might work better as a part of a morning smoothie or a mid day snack.
If you're going with a dairy sourced protein try to pick an organic source -- Kaizen has their Natural line which is a pretty good option. If you want to go all out, go for grass fed sourced protein. Grass-fed protein supplements will have a lower inflammatory response and even at their purest form, are more easily digestible than a conventional protein powder.
Soy is another option for protein. A lot of guys have concerns about soy because they've heard that soy has estrogen in it -- don't worry, you're not going to turn in to Mel Gibson from What Women Want just because you're ingesting soy based protein.
The isoflavones in soy can convert to estrogen in some tissues in the body, but in others they are actually anti-estrogenic! Research is showing that the soy-estrogen relationship is more bro-science than science. One thing to consider is that soy generally involves more processing to get to it's refined form so it's not as "natural" a protein source as whey.
Veggie sourced is another protein option and one that has the benefits of an increased nutrient profile. Good stuff! A couple drawbacks -- Veggie proteins don't come in isolates. So if you're a bodybuilder or high level athlete you might prefer an alternative to the 'veg' because of that.
Also, plant based proteins are known to have higher levels of naturally occurring trace heavy metals. Though not a major concern in most healthy people this can be important for younger kids, pregnant women and seniors or those with poor immune systems. If you fall into these groups, consult your doc before getting on a protein supplement.
Conclusion: Pick something that tastes great to you and agrees with your digestion system. Buy a better quality brand -- hint, you get what you pay for. If you're looking for the highest level of protein concentration, go to a soy or even better, a whey isolate. If extra nutrients are what you're after, pick up a veggie based protein supplement, just be careful you don't fall into any of the higher risk categories
Protein supplements and powders can be an extremely convenient way to get a little extra protein in to your diet. Sneak it in to shakes and smoothies, muffins, banana bread, whatever! In the end you have decide what your goals are when picking the type of protein you want.
For the average person I recommend a quality whey concentrate, the exception being if you find your digestion being affected -- in that case I would try out a soy or veggie based. The big benefit of a plant based protein is that it will have a more comprehensive nutrient profile, so if you're looking for a supplement that kills two birds with one stone, try the plant!
Hope this has given you a little more insight into your protein supplement options. As always,
Live Your Best Life!