If you have ever walked down a grocery or health food store aisle containing protein powders, you’ve likely found that the sheer volume and varieties of protein supplements can be overwhelming and confusing. How do you choose the right supplement? How much should you consume? Will you be able to absorb and tolerate it properly?
Let’s take a closer look at the importance and requirements of protein and best available sources of protein supplements.
How Much Do You Need?
Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are a class of molecules that are a key structural component of all cells in the body. Protein is needed for growth and repair of the body and maintenance of good health. Additionally, protein is required for energy metabolism, muscle synthesis, cell signalling, immune responses, and enzymatic reactions.
The amount of protein we need is varied and changes throughout our lifetime. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day for healthy individuals aged 19 and older.1,2 This equates to approximately 55g of protein per day for a person weighing 150 pounds. This is the minimum amount needed to maintain nitrogen balance and prevent protein deficiency.1,2 But recent research indicates that the RDA requirements are not adequate to maintain optimal health, and in fact more protein is needed for women who are pregnant or lactating, older individuals, active people, and athletes.3-5
Animal vs. Plant-Derived Protein is available in a variety of dietary sources. These include foods of both animal and plant origin. Both animal and plant-derived proteins are made up of 20 amino acids.1 Nine of these are not synthesised by humans and are considered essential.1 Therefore, these essential amino acids have to be obtained from the diet.
Proteins from animal sources (eggs, dairy, meat, and poultry) are considered high biological value protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Plant-derived proteins (from legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.), on the other hand, typically lack one or more of the essential amino acids and are considered a lower biological value protein.
But when these proteins are combined (e.g.: rice and beans), not only do they provide a complete source of protein, but they also offer a protein profile that is lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.
What Is a PDCASS Score?
Powder supplements offer an easy, convenient, and reliable source of high-quality protein. The most common sources of protein supplements include whey and casein (animal-derived) and soy and pea/rice blend (plant-derived). Depending on the source and purification methods used to manufacture the supplements, a consumer may or may not obtain a high-quality product. The quality and digestibility of a protein is vital considering the nutritional benefits it can provide. It is very important to determine this since the quality of the protein refers to the availability of amino acids that it supplies, whereas the digestibility considers how the protein is best utilised in the body. Therefore, in 1989, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) along with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a joint statement recommended utilising the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) to determine the quality and digestibility of a protein.6
Anti nutritional factors such as trypsin inhibitors, lectins, and tannins may be present in some protein sources, such as soybean meal, peas, etc., and may cause reduced protein hydrolysis and amino acid absorption.⁶ These factors may be compounded by age, since the ability of the gut to adapt to environmental and dietary insults reduces as we age.6
The PDCAAS score for whey protein is the highest at 1.0 compared to other common protein sources, due to their high content of essential and branched chain amino acids.7 Soy protein isolate is also considered a high-quality protein source (containing all nine essential amino acids) and contains a PDCAAS score of 1.0.7 Pea protein concentrate has a PDCAAS score of 0.89 because it contains lower levels of the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine.7
Whey proteins one of the most widely used protein sources for supplementation. Whey protein contains a high amount of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine has been shown to enhance glutathione levels and has strong antioxidant properties that are capable of helping to prevent damage to important cellular components in the body.6 It also contains a high concentration of branched chain amino acids (BCAA). BCAAs are important for their role in the prevention of muscle breakdown during exercise and tissue maintenance.6
There are different forms of whey protein: Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) and Whey Protein Isolate (WPI).
WPC is about 80% protein and is created by removing water, lactose, and some minerals. WPI on the other hand contain protein concentrations of 90% or higher since there is significant removal of fat and lactose making it the purest form of protein.6 Unfortunately, the manufacturing process often leads to some proteins breaking down and becoming denatured, reducing the effectiveness of the protein.6 Therefore, even though WPI contains higher protein concentrations than WPC, whey protein concentrate contains more biologically active components. People who are lactose intolerant are able to utilise WPI more readily without experiencing many negative side effects.
Both WPC and WPI can be further hydrolysed. Protein hydrolysates contain di- and tripeptides and therefore can be easily absorbed.
Soy protein contains beneficial phytonutrients such as phytosterols, saponins, and isoflavones. These nutrients have been associated with positive cardiovascular benefits, menopausal symptoms, and osteoporosis.6
Soy protein can also be found in various forms: soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate. Concentrates have some fat and carbohydrate removed, providing about 70% protein content.6 They have a high digestibility and are usually found in nutrition bars, cereals, and yogurts. Isolates are further refined, lacking dietary fibre but provide 90% protein content.6 They are easily digestible and can be found in protein supplements and infant formulas.
Pea/rice protein blend is recommended if you have a milk protein allergy/sensitivity, are avoiding soy products, or consume a vegetarian diet. Including a pea/rice blend protein powder is an alternative to whey protein, has a high PDCAAS score, and provides all nine essential amino acids.
Pea protein also contains a variety of phytonutrients such as polyphenolics, which may have antioxidant activity; saponins; and galactose oligosaccharides, which may demonstrate beneficial prebiotic effects in the large intestine.8
Whether you are using these supplements as a meal enhancer, snack, or a post workout drink, adding a high-quality protein supplement will help meet your daily protein needs. Metagenics provides a variety of protein options; work with your healthcare provider to figure out the amount and type of protein you need for optimal health.
About Nilima Desai
MPH, RD, Metagenics Manager, & Medical Marketing Nilima Desai is a Registered Dietitian who received her undergraduate degree from California State University Long Beach in Nutrition and Dietetics and her Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from Loma Linda University. She has over 14 years of experience providing medical nutrition therapy in diabetes, renal disease, weight management, and vegetarian nutrition. She also served on the board of the Renal Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics from 2012-2016 as the Membership Chair. Her passion about living and teaching a healthy lifestyle led her to collaborate with a nephrologist on creating the Pocket Dietitian app, which offers the user personalized, easy-to-use dietary prescription on conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, renal disease, weight management, etc. In her free time she runs half marathons and shuttles her two kids to their activities.
We reached out to Metagenics Senior Manager of Medical Information Mark Kaye to answer frequently received questions on supplement delivery formats, like capsules, tablets, and powders.
Are capsules better than tablets?
It’s an interesting question—and the answer may surprise many people. Capsules are not better than properly made tablets. In fact, capsules are simply an alternate delivery form. Often the choice is based on the ingredients in the supplement.
How do you decide which ingredient combination goes into a tablet or capsule?
There are a number of factors that would be considered when choosing whether to develop as a tablet or capsule. One example is odorous ingredients. For these, where the odor may be objectionable, capsules definitely provide a benefit. Another example is nutrients that may absorb moisture from the air. For these capsules also may be preferential. Serving size also plays a role. Since most capsules hold less total nutrient volume as compared to a similar size tablet, the use of capsules may increase the number of pills taken daily to achieve desired nutrient intake.
Lastly, consumer preference. Where possible, a manufacturer may offer the same supplement in both capsule and tablet delivery. Metagenics offers our Cal Apatite® Bone Builder® supplements as tablets, capsule, and chewable. The OmegaGenics supplements as gelatin softgels, vegetarian softgels, chewable softgels, and liquid forms. (Primary differences are by intended consumer. A preference for children may be chewable softgel or liquid.)
But tablets have to be broken down first. With capsules, aren’t the ingredients immediately available?
Both tablets and capsules have to be broken down (dissolved/disintegrated) prior to the ingredients’ being available to the body. Modern tablets are actually made very similarly to veggie caps, being made from plant fiber. Both veggie caps and modern plant-fiber-based tablets share very similar digestive characteristics, with no superiority in disintegration or bioavailability.
What about those with poor digestion? Are capsules better since they are not compressed?
As plant fiber is water soluble, there is no requirement for digestive support (stomach acid or similar) to disintegrate a modern plant-fiber-based tablet. A number of years ago Metagenics did an internal study, which showed the modern, plant-fiber-based, water-soluble tablet is readily dissolved in the digestive system. As to compression, recall what a vegetarian capsule is: compressed plant-fiber, just like its modern tablet counterpart.
I’m worried about lubricants and fillers. Are there any benefits using capsules vs. tablets?
Lubricants are important in both capsules and tablets. The purpose is to ensure that that the nutrients specified on the label are found in the supplement at the level specified. Lubricants are added in very small quantities to reduce friction and powder adhesion during tablet or capsule manufacture. The question is, if these important lubricants are not used, how does the manufacturer prove the nutrients, some at microgram levels, are each present to label claim?
Stearic acid and magnesium stearate are neutral saturated fats that are used quite sparingly as lubricants. Stearic acid is one of the most common dietary fats consumed in healthy diets—found in olive oil as example— and is metabolized by the body to oleic acid (the same monounsaturate as found in olive oil). Magnesium stearate is simply the essential mineral magnesium attached to one of the most commonly consumed dietary fats.
As to these lubricants “coating” the nutrients so that they are not absorbed, since stearic acid is so common in the diet, does anyone suggest that this common fat—or any fat—“coats” the nutrients in food so they are not absorbed? Not likely. There is much misinformation regarding stearic acid/magnesium stearate, but these are the simple facts.
How about fillers?
Quality manufacturing uses no “fillers.” Each and every ingredient—whether in a tablet or capsule—serves an important purpose. Some refer to plant fiber used in tablet manufacture as a filler. If that is the case, what is a veggie cap, as it is the same plant fiber that is used as the capsule. In both cases these plant fibers are not active nutrients but are important in delivering those nutrients to the consumer. Lastly, to capsules, all will require some nonactive ingredient to fill space, as capsules come in only in a few standard sizes.
Is there a psychology at work with patients’ perception of pills?
There were two interesting papers, one published in 1982 the other in 1996. The discovery was, in essence, the psychology underlying consumer perception to pills. The result was that patients taking the exact same medication responded better to capsules—the larger the capsule the better—and to color—certain colors were reported to produce a more favorable response. At Metagenics, our focus is not the psychology of pill manufacture but the clinical results obtained from their use.
Whether tablet, capsule, chewable, NutraGems®, softgel, powder, or liquid, are all effective means of providing nutritional support to patients. Metagenics offers multiple delivery forms as well as a variety of flavors to maximize clinical efficacy and patient compliance.
About Mark Kaye
Mark A. Kaye DC, Senior Manager, Medical Information, Medical Affairs: Dr. Kaye started with Metagenics in June of 1995 and has been leading seminars, speaking internationally, writing, and supporting practitioners through programs including Innovative Practice Solutions (IPS) and FirstLine Therapy (FLT) ever since. Mark manages Metagenics Medical Information team, providing practitioner support for medical foods, functional foods, and dietary supplements in clinical practice. In addition, Mark supports Metagenics International Distributors in their clinical and product needs and is involved in compliance with U.S. and Canadian dietary supplement regulations. Dr. Kaye received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic and was in private practice in Southern California for approximately ten years prior to joining Metagenics. In addition to licensure in California, Dr. Kaye was licensed to practice chiropractic in Arizona and Maine.
Dining out should be relaxing. But if you have a gluten sensitivity, a bit of skepticism should be on the menu. Typical recommendations, such as seeking a gluten-free menu and letting the server know about one’s dietary restrictions, may give the diner a false sense of assurance.
Here’s why—and how—gluten digestive enzymes can improve your dining experience.
Is the Gluten-Free Menu Really Enough?
First, consider economics. While awareness for the concerns of gluten-free customer is growing, the restaurant industry is challenged by slim margins and regular employee turnover. Further, appropriately accommodating these customers requires much more than simply stocking gluten-free breads and pastas. So, if a restaurant invests in the training and infrastructure to adequately support the needs of these customers, it will likely promote its efforts and will welcome questions.
Second, not all restaurants have a gluten-free menu, leaving the diner to navigate the standard menu. Unfortunately, it’s not a good idea to assume anything about the ingredients on any menu, especially those of chain restaurants, often the only option for a traveler.
Discerning gluten-free diners need to ask some very specific questions to determine the risk for gluten exposure from raw ingredients or cross-contamination. But will a well-meaning airport restaurant manager have the answers?
Some Questions to Determine Possible Gluten Exposure
How Can the Right Enzymes Help?
Gluten-sensitive patients will always need to wear their detective hat when dining out. However, medical professionals can support them by recommending targeted support to break down hidden gluten enzymatically. But which gluten enzymes might help the most?
SpectraZyme Gluten Digest is a bacterially derived, clinically researched prolyl endoprotease (AN-PEP). It has many advantages over popular market offerings that feature exoprotease proteolytic enzymes, also known as didpeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV). In short, the AN-PEP is more effective in the low pH environment of the stomach with or without the other enzymes naturally present in the digestive tract.
SpectraZyme Gluten Digest is also a proline-specific endoprotease. This means it can specifically cleave the gluten and gluten peptides after any of the many proline residues, breaking down protein over the entire length of protein and peptide chains, not just at the ends. As a result, the enzyme breaks up the gluten more completely. So less hidden gluten will reach the duodenum
Gluten-sensitive individuals can’t avoid all gluten exposure. But, with SpectraZyme Gluten Digest, they can minimize their risk when dining away from home.
About Maribeth Evezich
Maribeth Evezich, MS, RD is a functional nutrition and therapeutic lifestyle consultant. Maribeth is also a graduate of Bastyr University and the Natural Gourmet Institute. Whether she is in her kitchen experimenting, at her computer researching, or behind the lens of her camera, she is on a mission to inspire others to love whole foods. as much as she does. She lives in Seattle and is the founder of Lifestyle Medicine Consulting, LLC and the culinary nutrition blog, Whole Foods Explorer. Maribeth Evezich is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.
A Guide to the Scientifically Based, Functional Medicine Approach
People either swoon or cringe when they hear the word “detox.” Those who stand behind it claim it gets rid of their symptoms—everything from brain fog to joint pain and fatigue—while others strongly assert there is no need to detox, and it is just marketing hype. Why such polarized views?
“Detox” used to mean many things, which may be part of the reason for the discrepancy. To some, it might simply be drinking lemon juice in water, sitting in a sauna, or maybe doing a juice fast. However, within Functional Medicine, detox has a specific definition: it is the process of reducing the body’s toxic load by lessening exposure to harmful chemicals we are taking in, while simultaneously implementing nutrition and lifestyle strategies to promote efficient elimination of toxins from the body1.
The first step of detoxification can be done, in part, by lessening the immune system load by removing reactive foods from the diet. The gold standard for this removal is the aptly named “elimination diet”, which is a simplified list of foods to eat and foods to exclude as part of a detox program.
Typically, common allergenic foods and beverages containing corn, soy, wheat/gluten, eggs, dairy, shellfish, and peanuts are omitted from the daily diet in conjunction with caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and red meat for 10 to 28 days, depending on the duration of the program. In scientific literature, using an elimination diet in various formats has historically been used to address various conditions2,3,4,5,6 with differing levels of success.
In Functional Medicine, the elimination diet is often used as the first line of therapy for immune and gastrointestinal issues since it can help with reducing toxic load and cooling down any immune reactivity to foods.
In conjunction with removal of foods, it’s best to take a complementary approach to bolstering the body with specific nutrients to help fortify its pathways of detoxification in the liver, so toxins can be easily removed. For example, it is well known that certain vitamins and minerals—like B vitamins and iron—are required to assist in the activity of these enzymes7. Coupling nutrients together with an elimination diet (through their inclusion as whole, plant-based foods and as scientifically formulated dietary supplements) is perhaps the most robust protocol for a medical detoxification regimen.
In support of this approach, Lamb et al8. showed that a 4-week elimination diet? together with nutrient supplementation ? was helpful in reducing symptoms in women with fibromyalgia.
In conclusion, detox has a very specific and science-based definition within Functional Medicine. In practice, Functional Medicine programs that modify dietary intake and supplement nutritional co-factors that support the body’s endogenous detoxification pathways can mitigate toxic burden to reduce incoming toxic exposures, and, at the same time, equip the body with nutrients known to support the body’s natural capacity to shuttle toxins out.
1 Institute for Functional Medicine. https://www.functionalmedicine.org/
2 Warners MJ, Vlieg-Boerstra BJ, Bredenoord AJ. Elimination and elemental diet therapy in eosinophilic oesophagitis. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2015 Oct;29(5):793-803.
3 Kim J, Kwon J, Noh G, Lee SS. The effects of elimination diet on nutritional status in subjects with atopic dermatitis. Nutr Res Pract. 2013 Dec;7(6):488-94.
4 Alpay K, Ertas M, Orhan EK, Ustay DK, Lieners C, Baykan B. Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: a clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 Jul;30(7):829-37. doi: 10.1177/0333102410361404. Epub 2010 Mar 10.
5 Bunner AE, Agarwal U, Gonzales JF, Valente F, Barnard ND. Nutrition intervention for migraine: a randomized crossover trial. J Headache Pain. 2014 Oct 23;15:69. doi: 10.1186/1129-2377-15-69.
6 Pastorello EA, Stocchi L, Pravettoni V, Bigi A, Schilke ML, Incorvaia C, Zanussi C. Role of the elimination diet in adults with food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1989 Oct;84(4 Pt 1):475-83.
7 Textbook of Functional Medicine. Institute for Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, WA. 2006.
8 Lamb JJ, Konda VR, Quig DW, Desai A, Minich DM, Bouillon L, Chang JL, Hsi A, Lerman RH, Kornberg J, Bland JS, Tripp ML. . Altern Ther Health Med. 2011 Mar-Apr;17(2):36-44.
About Deanna Minich
Guest blogger Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally recognized health expert and author with more than 20 years of experience in nutrition, mind-body health, and functional medicine. Dr. Minich holds Master’s and Doctorate degrees in nutrition and has lectured extensively throughout the world on health topics, teaching patients and health professionals about nutrition. She is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, and a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. Currently, Dr. Minich teaches for the Institute for Functional Medicine and for the graduate program in functional medicine at the University of Western States. Her passion is bringing forth a colorful, whole-self approach to nourishment called Whole Detox and bridging the gaps between science, soul, and art in medicine.