Are Protein Shakes Healthy?

"Are protein shakes healthy" is a good question.  With so much info out there, I'm going to clear up a few of the specifics when it comes to the ingredients added to most other protein shakes...

Let's start with a quote and then move into the specific ingredients to beware of...

"Do NOT EAT the chemicals. It is the #1 laboratory safety rule young scientists learn to never break and for good reason; it keeps lab citizens alive and unscathed." (Scientific American, 2013)

artificial sweetener.jpg



So, it turns out the "health" industry has been less than transparent when it comes to the ingredients they use. Their packaging might shine brightly and look clean and inspiring, but what's actually in there?

The depth of their B.S is "ugly deep" and in more ways than one but right now I want us to focus on the ingredients some companies unnecessarily add to their protein shakes.


Quick list of potential risks / problems associated with suspect ingredients:

- Neurotoxins (hinder your brain)

- Immunotoxins (hinder the immune system)

- Hinders gut health/bacteria (I bet you or someone you know has IBS)

- Cancer and tumors

- Brain fog, migraines and headaches

(All references to the above at the bottom of this post)


Well known brands may unfortunately contain:

1) Maltodextrin

Why it might cause problems?

- Though derived from natural foods it is HIGHLY processed and has extremely high glycemic index (106 to 136). Table sugar is around 65.

- May suppress growth of beneficial probiotics in the gut (and gut health is very important)

- Often made from GMO corn. (Read more on GMO's here)

- Has zero nutritional value yet spikes blood sugar.

- May cause undesired reactions such as allergies or digestive problems. 

What is it? 

White powder derived from starch of corn, potato, wheat or rice.

Why do they use it?

Thickener, filler to increase volume. Also used as a preservative.


Maltodextrin is not necessary for a well balanced protein shake. Fun fact; the word for "bad" in Spanish is "mal" (which is the beginning of Maltodextrin)

2) Silicon Dioxide (aka Silica)

Why it might cause problems?

It's not inherently bad, more so it's just unnecessary to your protein shake. We are going for foods and ingredients that support health and have a purpose for us.

What is it? 

It's an anti-caking agent made when silicon binds with oxygen.

Why do they use it?

Stops the powder from clumping together if moisture gets in. Many brands do not find this additive necessary.

ENRICHD Notes: Why would anyone consume it if it's unnecessary and you can choose a protein powder without it that also does not clump together.

3) Vitamins or Minerals (Synthetic)

Why it might cause problems?

- Excess synthetic vitamins or minerals may be toxic or even progress an existing illness.  

- They may have the same chemical constituents to those found in foods but could be a different shape, which is not good for the human body.  

- Synthetic vitamins and minerals may lack transporters and co-factors which means the body may not be able to use them. So, synthetic vitamins may also use the body's current minerals in order to go where they need to be, potentially leaving the body deficient.

What are they? 

Lab made vitamins or minerals are made to mimic the way natural vitamins act in our body. But of course there is more to the story. 

Why do they use them?

Nutrient void foods may need cheap synthetic vitamins or minerals adding to term the product a food and as a part of the marketing $trategy.


Getting vitamins and minerals from organically grown foods is the first step then any added supplements to be 100% food derived and from the highest quality source. Synthetic ingredients are not on our shopping list. Especially when it comes to protein shakes!


4) Saccharine

Why it might cause problems?

- In a similar way to other artificial sweeteners Saccharine may alter gut bacteria for the worse.

- Animal studies have found potential links between Saccharine and cancer.

- Intense sweeteners such as Saccharine may cause problems in the communication the between brain and gut–something we want to be as clear as possible. Of course.

What is it? 

Artificial sweetener 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar

Why do they use it?

It's sweet, cheap and probably addictive (like many of the others). 


Center for Science in the Public Interest previously rated Saccharine as "UNSAFE" and now they simply say "AVOID".

5) Sucralose / Splenda

Why it might cause problems?

"We found a significant dose-related increased incidence of males bearing malignant tumors"  

International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 2014

AND.... May also be detrimental to healthy gut bacteria (forget it already), potentially toxic when heated, 2014 study linked Sucralose (Splenda) to leukemia in rats. Similar to other artificial it may also be detrimental to brain-gut communication. No gracias.

What is it? 

Around 600 times sweeter than sugar it's kind of obvious that there will be something fishy about Sucralose. Oh, and it was originally found through the development of a new insecticide.

Why do they use it?

Cheap, sweet, possibly addictive.


The name looks and sounds so much like sucrose (which IS sugar) and so Sucralose, appears to be natural, but it is most certainly an artificial sweetener.

6) Aspartame

Why it might cause problems?

Aspartame is linked to a long list of health problems including anxiety, depression, birth defects, fatigue, brain tumors and risk of strokes. Though not necessarily the direct cause they may increase symptoms of the above list. May also negatively change gut bacteria.

What is it? 

Made up of the highly toxic chemicals; Aspartic acid, Phenylalanine and Methanol.

Dr Axe: "Aspartic acid is a non-essential amino acid that can over stimulate neurons, causing them to die."

"Phenylalanine is an amino acid that can be toxic in high doses."

"Methanol is a type of alcohol that is metabolized into the neurotoxin formaldehyde. It can interfere with DNA formation and lead to birth defects, like spina bifida."

Why do they use it?

It's sweet and low calories. Which in itself is part of the social problem - people thinking that calories are the be all end all. That is simply not true.


No aspartame in my health drink please. Aspartame and health do NOT go hand in hand.

7) Neotame (aka E number E961)

Why it might cause problems?

7000 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Neotame is made through the reaction of aspartame and 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde. Potential neurotoxin and immunotoxin.

What is it? 

Artificial sweetener / flavour enhancer in food products and cattle feed.

Why do they use it?

Non-caloric sweetener / flavour enhancer to mask other flavours that is thousands of times sweeter than table sugar. I have no idea why they use it! ha!? What a joke...


People are becoming savvy to the problems associated with Aspartame and so they may have made it because of this. It's 7000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. I wonder how our brains, digestive system and appetite will react to it!? It's a no. Thank you.

8) Acesuflame K

Why it might cause problems?

May affect memory and neuro-metabolic functions. May also negatively change gut bacteria.

What is it?

Artificial sweetener, calorie free, around 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Why do they use it?

To add intense sweetness without calories. 


May cause digestive issues and affect brain function. I'd rather choose something that supports my health–right!?

9) Fructose

Why it might be bad?

Fructose IN fruit, the whole thing (local and seasonal ideally) makes sense, right!? But when the fructose is taken out of the fruit the affect it has on the human body changes.  Health implications of excess of some types of fructose, (particularly the version found in many supplements) include fatty liver, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and leaky gut. Fructose sucks.

What is it? 

Fructose is sugar derived from fruit or vegetables. Though the additive is not metabolised in the same way it would be when consumed in the whole fruit.  It has a different metabolic pathway commonly known for putting extra stress on the liver.

Why do they use it?

People often associate fructose with fruit sugar, and they'd be right, but it's not what it seems.

ENRICHD Notes: Especially avoid high fructose corn syrup because it is also often from GMO foods, and in general added fructose is completely unnecessary in your protein shake. Fructose (as an extract) may put extra stress on the liver. PLUS, I'm going to guess you're already getting  a significant amount of sugars / fructose from other sources–if you protein shake has added fructose I'd change it.

Other bulking ingredients:

- Oats; not inherently bad, they're just there too add cheap weight and volume. How much does half a bag of oats cost? (a couple of quid, right?) They're cheap and heavy so fill up the protein bag.

Some quotes from the studies:

"Animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause body weight gain".

"...animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and many other health hazards. Some kind of health related side effects including carcinogenicity are also noted in humans".

"Based on the published research, independent scientific experts in both the U.S. and globally have concluded that stevia sweeteners are safe for people of all ages"

"Artificial sweeteners taste sweet but are not as rewarding to the brain as sugar."

Thanks and shopping...

Brilliant, that's that for now, we of course have our own tasty protein shake that is loaded with superfoods and clean as a whistle.  Nip to the ENRICHD SHOP if you fancy a bag... When you use discount code TASTY25 it will give you 25% discount. Nice! 

Cheers, Rich



Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits

Tricking Taste Buds but Not the Brain: Artificial Sweeteners Change Brain’s Pleasure Response to Sweet. Published September, 5.

Top 5 Dangers of Maltodextrin + 5 Healthier Substitutes

Which is More Deadly: Aspartame or Sugar?

Serum phenylalanine concentrations in patients with ovarian carcinoma correlate with concentrations of immune activation markers and of isoprostane-8.

Artificial Sweeteners May Change Our Gut Bacteria in Dangerous Ways


Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues

Sucralose administered in feed, beginning prenatally through lifespan, induces hematopoietic neoplasias in male swiss mice