Food Myths Nutrition

Are You Being Fooled By Protein Drinks?

bolthouse farms

When you hear “protein shake,” or see “30 grams of protein” on a smoothie bottle’s label, you might draw the conclusion that this beverage is a healthy choice. But protein drinks are usually high calorie, high in sugar and highly refined, making them a poor choice when compared to all the natural sources of protein you could be eating instead.

Take Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus for instance. This is their claim:

bolthouse farms protein plus chocolate

But if you look at the Nutrition Facts label, you see that you’d have to drink two servings to get the 30 grams of protein they brag about, which means you would also be consuming 420 calories and 52 grams of sugar.

protein shakes

And if you read the ingredients list, you see that the protein comes from two highly processed sources: whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate (the soy derivative that may increase estrogen levels in the body).

protein shakes

Nothing about this ingredients list looks appealing to me. Especially when you can get that much protein and fiber – plus a host of naturally-occurring nutrients and a lot more satisfaction – from a lower calorie whole foods snack like plain Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts.

Next time you’re contemplating a protein drink for a meal replacement or snack, choose one of these high protein options instead.

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  • Laila
    May 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for this. What do you think about Tera’s organic whey protein as a post-workout snack?

  • Amelia
    May 14, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Tera’s organic whey protein is fine, but in my view you’re better off eating a Greek yogurt with some fruit after a workout. In the contest between a real food and protein powder, real food always wins.

  • Laila
    May 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you. I agree with you. I got a little lazy and resorted to Tera’s. Cottage cheese and frozen cherries has been another fav of mine lately so I’ll stick to that!

  • Amelia
    May 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Cottage cheese and cherries sounds delish! When you’re short on time, the protein powder is fine. I just wouldn’t resort to it every time, or in place of whole foods if you have the choice.

  • Terry Turbak
    August 20, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I have had gastric bypass surgery 16 months ago and have lost 215 lbs. However, I am 40 lbs. below my doctor’s ideal weight for me and 15 lbs. below my own goal weight, so I am faced with having to gain weight back while still eating small amounts and concentrating on protein. I am told by my nutritionist that whey protein and soy protein are good sources that are easily absorbed by my body so I will retain higher amounts of them than other protein sources. I am using this product, sipping small amounts of it throughout the day to prevent dumping syndrome, but I find the flavor and texture much better than other protein drinks I have tried. For me, this is a good solution. I would not recommend it to anyone trying to lose weight, but for those of us who have the reverse problem, this is a good choice to consider.

  • Tricia Reichard
    June 10, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Im trying to find a shake that tastes good and doesn’t upset my stomach. I thought I had found this in Bolthouse but after reading your article and realizing all the calories I’m consuming (I’m tired of reading labels) I’m back to searching…any suggestions other than greek yogurt?

  • Amelia Winslow
    June 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Try the Organic Valley Organic Balance Shakes – they come in vanilla and chocolate and the don’t have any weird protein additives. Their 16g of protein comes from strained milk, rather than soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, etc. They’re also organic of course, and taste really good!

  • Rich
    July 26, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Yes, but sitting here with a Boathouse Farms Vanilla Bean Protein Plus in my hand, and comparing that label to the label of an Organic Valley Balance Shake, the Organic Valley has more saturated fat, more sodium, more sugar, and far fewer vitamins/values. Is it really a better choice simply because of the protein source?

  • Amelia Winslow
    July 28, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Hi Rich,
    There are some big differences between the two drinks you mention. First, have you checked the serving size? A serving of the Bolthouse Farms drink is 8 oz, and the smallest container it comes in is 15.2 oz, so multiply everything on the label by two. A bottle of Organic Balance is one 11 oz serving, so the nutrition label reflects that. Looks to me like there’s significantly more sugar and calories in a Bolthouse Vanilla drink than the Organic Balance one.

    Also, Organic Balance comes from a whole food, whereas Bolthouse Farms is a collection of additives. The vitamins/minerals are from fortification, so it’s just like taking a multivitamin. Your body absorbs more from natural nutrient sources than from supplements. Whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate (which is associated with increasing estrogen levels in the body) are protein derivatives, which are highly processed. Organic Balance’s protein just comes from milk which has been filtered.

  • Nina
    July 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Bought the mango flavor yesterday actually two bottles of it. I am 5 months post gastric sleeve and I need all the protein I can get because I cannot eat any solid food my surgeon said whatever protein you can get is great so when I saw this brand and the 30 grams of protein I didn’t really care about the sugar content or the calories the protein was perfect, drank my two bottles didn’t have to worry about dumping syndrome or feeling sick afterwards. I am very grateful to have this product as an option for those of us on the go and don’t have an opportunity to sit down with a cup of Greek yogurt and fruit.

  • Kate
    February 12, 2016 at 10:18 am

    It also states on the bottle crisp vegetables, ripe fruit…? Where’s the veggies? Agave? Wow 52 grams of sugar. It does say 2 servings, but who drinks 1/2 a bottle?
    Why can’t they just be honest and straightforward on the label?

  • Amelia Winslow
    February 17, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I know – so disappointing!

  • Gidry
    September 6, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Healthy people don’t drink a whole 32oz drink just because it it there. Must use common sense. For me, the Bolthouse drinks are an easy way to increase my protein intake, since I have a very poor appetite for food. Naturally, the fat and sugar in these drinks are not a problem for me.

  • Amelia Winslow
    September 7, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    I see your point here. However there are some better choices on the market – Orgain and Organic Valley Organic Balance for example.

  • Kiera
    March 30, 2017 at 3:15 am

    I brought a bottle of the protein plus chocolate yesterday and it’s 11oz, 210 calorie single severing bottle with 22grams of protein.

    I’m underweight, so not much concerned with calories/sugar. I rarely have time to sit with a bowl of greek yogurt and need as much protein as I can get into my body.

    I’m happy you mentioned the other organic options and I plan to try them. However Bolthouse has done a great job with the flavor of their drinks. Before finding the protein plus chocolate I dreaded my daily protein shakes even though I knew my body desperately needed it.

  • Amelia Winslow
    April 11, 2017 at 4:58 am

    Hi Kiera, check out Organic Valley Organic Fuel or Organic Balance drinks. Those are tasty and don’t contain questionable ingredients. They’re made from strained milk instead of processed protein derivatives. Orgain also makes delicious dairy-based and dairy-free protein drinks.

    Boathouse may taste good, and technically provide the nutrients you are looking for – but wouldn’t it be better to get nutrients from whole or less processed foods?

  • Gab
    August 30, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I’m currently addicted to this mango protein plus … have been for a bout a year. I drink one for breakfast each morning since I don’t have time or appetite to eat a real breakfast … Is it harmful? I’m trying to lose weight. This drink along with water keeps me full through lunch time. I’m seriously addicted to them.

  • Jon Dante
    September 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Well for me it’s a win-win…it’s quick, high in calories, and high in protein….for somebody trying to gain weight…this is an easy 800+ calories along with meals throughout the day…

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