Whether you’re on your way to a brain-boosting yoga class or don’t have time to make some healthy breakfast tacos, a protein shake for breakfast can be a convenient on-the-go option. After all, protein is a key nutrient to saying full after a meal. But given that it’s so easy and portable…there has to be some kind of catch, right? How healthy is it?
“Protein shakes can be healthy at any time of day,” says Sonya Angelone, RDN and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Protein gets the digestive juices or proteases started in the stomach,” she says, which can potentially help kick-start your digestion for the day. (Always a good thing in the a.m.) Plus, experts generally tend to like starting the day with a bit of protein to help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you fuller for longer.
However, not all protein shakes are necessarily a good idea, Angelone adds. “What makes it healthy or not isn’t so much about when it is consumed but exactly what is being consumed,” she says. For example, some protein shakes could cause some gastrointestinal issues. “Protein can [often] come from the liquid base like soy milk, dairy milk or other beverages. Many non-dairy beverages have very little protein and often contain thickeners which could be problematic for some people leading to gas and bloating,” she says. Others might have issues digesting certain kinds of protein powder commonly used in these shakes, like soy protein isolate.
Speaking of protein, here’s the lowdown on the best protein sources for vegetarians and vegans:
If you’re going for a pre-made protein shake, definitely read the labels. “You may be getting protein, which is a nice thing to have for breakfast, but there also tends to be added sugars because people want them to taste good, they want you to keep purchasing them,” says Torey Armul, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Let that label dictate which is the healthiest choice.”
Meanwhile, “if you can make your own protein shake at home, I think that’s great. It keeps you in control of the ingredients,” Armul says. As long as you choose a type of protein powder that suits your unique dietary needs (and isn’t secretly loaded with added sugar), she says it’s hard to go wrong.
“Some are better suited for vegans like plant-based proteins, some have been shown to maximize protein synthesis like whey protein, but all can be good sources of protein,” agrees Angelone. Flavor preferences can also come into play, she says—collagen is relatively flavorless and dissolves easily, while protein powders made from almonds or peanuts can add a nice nutty flavor. It all just depends on what you like.
Looking for some easy protein shake recipes? You can try this easy pegan-friendly one from functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD (which contains zucchini, berries, collagen, and MCT oil), or Jessica Alba’s go-to high-protein smoothie (which includes matcha powder, organic protein powder, coconut water, and banana).
So if you’re in a rush and looking to shake up your breakfast routine from your usual banana, granola, and Greek yogurt combo, a healthy protein smoothie might just be the way to go, when you’re on the go.
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