Protein is arguably the most important of the three macronutrients, with the other two being fat and carbohydrate. Your body uses protein for muscle repair and growth, and not consuming enough could undermine your workouts.
In addition, protein can be helpful during weight-loss diets. It has a high thermic effect, so it increases your metabolic rate to help you burn more calories. Protein is also satiating and may help prevent the muscle breakdown that can accompany a low-calorie diet.
Unfortunately, getting enough protein is not always easy.
High-protein foods like chicken, fish, and eggs are not especially portable and take time to prepare. Vegetarian and vegan protein sources like nuts and seeds are also very calorific because they also contain a lot of carbs.
One way to make getting enough protein a lot easier is to use a protein supplement. Protein powders mix easily with water, are portable, and provide a concentrated source of protein. Just one scoop contains 18-25 grams of high-quality protein.
While protein powders are undeniably useful, some may contain large amounts of sodium or salt. Too much salt can cause water retention and high blood pressure.
In this article, we discuss why some protein powders have so much sodium and what you can do to make sure you aren’t consuming too.
Why Do Protein Powders Have So Much Sodium?
Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral.
It plays an integral part in the function and health of your body.
It’s involved in regulating fluid levels within your cells and the conduction of nerve impulses.
Too little salt can cause serious problems, including heart arrhythmia and muscle cramps. However, sodium is also hydrophilic, which means it attracts water.
Consuming too much salt can cause water retention, and some of that water will enter your blood. Increased blood volume will cause a rise in blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a common precursor of heart disease, strokes, and kidney disease.
As such, some people need to limit their salt intake. As well as occurring naturally, sodium is often added to foods to enhance their flavor and counteract excessive sweetness.
As such, it’s a common ingredient in almost all processed foods, and that includes some protein powders. However, sodium content varies from product to product, and not all protein powders are loaded with salt. In fact, some are very low in sodium.
That said, plant-based protein powders tend to contain higher amounts of sodium than whey, and pea protein usually contains more salt than all the others. For example, one average serving of pea protein contains around 238mg of sodium compared to just 65mg in the same amount of whey.
So, the real question is not why protein powders contain so much sodium, but why does PEA PROTEIN have so much.
How Is Pea Protein Made?
Whey protein is made from milk, and, as such, some people don’t want to use it.
They may be lactose intolerant or vegans.
Either way, some people prefer to consume plant-based proteins.
There are several plant-based proteins to choose from, including rice, soy, and hemp. However, pea protein is one of the most popular. But, as we’ve mentioned, pea protein is often very high in sodium.
To turn peas into pea protein powder, the peas are soaked in saltwater. This makes extracting the protein easier. While that saltwater is then removed in the drying process, some sodium remains, which is why pea protein is higher in salt than other types of protein powder.
However, while pea protein most definitely contains more sodium than whey, the levels are still pretty low.
For example, two scoops of pea protein powder contain about ⅛ of a teaspoon of table salt. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than about half a teaspoon or 2,300mg per day.
So, while pea protein is high in sodium compared to other types of protein powder, it’s still actually quite low in salt. So, you’d have to consume quite a lot to exceed the maximum recommended daily sodium intake.
That said, if you are on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, you may still want to limit your salt intake. So, as pea protein powder often contains more sodium than other types of protein powder, making the switch to soy or whey may be a good idea.
How to Check Sodium Levels in Protein Powder?
Most protein supplements have detailed nutrition labels, so it’s easy to determine what is in your chosen supplement.
Just look at the information panel and look for sodium.
You can even compare several products side-by-side, so you can choose the protein powder with the least amount of sodium.
Supplement manufacturers often publish their nutrition facts online, so you can easily compare the sodium content of lots of different products to find the best one for you.
However, it’s worth mentioning that studies have revealed inaccuracies on some nutrition labels, and the information is not always 100% reliable.
One way around this problem is to consume plenty of potassium as this mineral counteracts the effect of sodium.
Risks Associated with Protein Supplements
Protein powders are convenient and easy to use. They’re also generally safe and healthy. However, there are a few risks associated with using protein supplements. These risks include:
Allergies – it’s possible to be allergic to some of the ingredients in protein powders. Common allergens include lactose, eggs, and nuts. These ingredients may not even have been added intentionally to your protein powder.
They may only be present in trace amounts because of contamination within the facility where the product was made. Allergens are usually listed on the nutrition label, so take a look before making your purchase.
Artificial ingredients – some protein powders contain artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives. While these chemicals are generally regarded as safe, some people react badly to them while others prefer to avoid them for health reasons.
The good news is that there are plenty of protein powders made with all-natural ingredients. For example, unflavored, grass-fed whey is usually free from artificial ingredients.
Some people have sensitive stomachs, and protein powders can cause digestive problems such as bloating, gas, loose stools, or constipation.
In most cases, this will be the result of an undiagnosed allergic reaction or sensitivity to one of the ingredients.
If your protein powder makes you feel unwell, try switching to another type.
Protein Powder Alternatives
While protein powders are convenient, they’re not compulsory. It’s entirely possible to consume enough protein by eating real foods.
Meat, eggs, fish, chicken, and dairy are all high in protein, as are nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and some vegetables. That said, protein shakes make consuming more protein much easier, so it’s good to know that you can make your own.
Blend 1-2 cups of almond, oat, soy, or rice milk with some oats, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. Add some vanilla extract and a little raw honey, and you’ve got a tasty, high-protein smoothie you can drink on the go.
Sodium is a critical mineral. In fact, it’s one of the electrolyte minerals that regulate hydration and fluid balance. That’s why most sports drinks contain at least a little sodium, as you lose it when you sweat especially cycling.
That said, the standard American diet tends to contain way too much sodium. That’s because it’s added to almost everything you eat, especially processed foods.
Because of this, you may want to think twice before using pea protein powder as it contains more sodium than whey, soy, and other types of protein supplements.
But, if you have no issues with salt, aren’t hypertensive, and aren’t currently trying to lower your sodium intake, even pea protein should be safe and healthy to use.