In an ideal world, you’d get all of the important nutrients your body needs, including protein, from whole foods, says Manhattan nutritionist Sharon Richter, RD, “but there are always situations where it’s useful to have protein shakes. It’s just convenient and easy.”
There’s just one little problem. Choosing a protein powder can be complicated, thanks to many bodybuilding brands using low-quality ingredients and then adding in all kinds of unnecessary, unhealthy…stuff, like fructose, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. “The best question to ask yourself is, ‘what has ingredients that are the simplest and are things that we know?'” Richter explains. In case you have better things to do than read New Yorker-story-length ingredient labels, the info is all here for you.
After comparing more than 25 popular brands on the market with Richter’s help, these five clean, healthy protein powders topped our list (including vegan options), so you can feel really good about blending them up. Here they are, listed in no particular order (with handy per-ounce price comparisons so your wallet retains muscle, too).
Originally published January 21, 2016, updated June 13, 2016.
Keep reading to find out which five protein powders are the very best.
It really doesn’t get any simpler than Naked’s line of one-ingredient powders from a variety of sources. Naked Whey is just whey protein concentrate; Naked Goat is goat whey protein concentrate; Naked Pea is yellow pea protein. And the company’s ingredient sourcing is top-notch—as in the whey comes from grass-fed cows’ milk, the peas are non-GMO, and everything is processed in the cleanest way possible. “Any are fine—pick one based on allergies or preference,” Richter says. You’ll notice the difference in terms of taste, too. No weird sweetness or cardboard-reminiscent aftertaste, here.
Price Check: $1.12 per ounce
“It’s like I went to a juice bar and told them what to put in,” Richter jokes of how close Body Ecology’s ingredients are to whole foods, even if the list is a little longer than it needs to be. Think pea protein concentrate paired with bonus health boosters like organic mushrooms, which have great health benefits, and kelp. And for those who have digestion issues with straight protein, it’s fermented and comes with probiotics. They’ve kind of thought of everything, but it’ll cost you.
Price Check: $2.93 per ounce
Aloha’s powder provides complete protein for vegans (which is still not easy to come by) via a mix of pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp seed. It’s made with almost all organic ingredients, and has USDA certification. Because Aloha only uses real foods in the formulation, even the flavoring is healthy, and comes from things like vanilla bean and cinnamon, so it tastes way better than your standard powder, too.
Price Check: $1.78 per ounce (with a larger serving size than the others, so you’re getting slightly less for your money.)
Created by a top trainer-registered dietitian (who better?), ProMix is a favorite among in-the-know weight lifters and CrossFit athletes because of its super high quality standards. Made with whey protein sourced directly from small farms raising grass-fed cows, it’s free of anything extra you’d want to avoid—like colors, flavors, soy, or gluten—and employs a processing and filtration method that ensures the product is ultra pure. You can taste that difference (actually, with the Unflavored, not taste) and it also comes in Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Peanut Butter if you’ve got more of a sweet tooth.
Price Check: $1 per ounce, *Best Value!
Another great pick for vegetarians and vegans, Vega’s formulation starts with a base of pea, hemp seed, and pumpkin seed protein, but adds in alfalfa. It includes the typically hard-to-know-what-they-are “natural flavors,” but in super tiny amounts, and the company also breaks down the amino acid profile for you on the label, if that’s something you’re into.
Price Check: $1.77 per ounce
OK, so you have your protein powder all picked out. So what do you put them in? These smoothie recipes have you covered. And if you want to do a deep dive into the world of protein, this protein guide is about to be your new best friend.