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Some Protein Powders are Unsafe: Study

making a smoothie with protein powderWe love ourselves a good smoothie, but did you know that even the healthiest of smoothies may be doing more harm than good for you? That scoop of protein powder that you’re adding may contain lead, cadmium, and/or BPA (an industrial chemical otherwise known as bisphenol-A).

Clean Label Project, a nonprofit focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling, released the findings of a study on protein powders and the results are startling.

The 2018 study examined 134 protein powder products from 52 brands. Those products were tested for more than 130 toxins that included heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health issues. We may think that what is on our shelves is safe to consume, and while the FDA has made significant strides to protect us consumers from foodborne illnesses, the USA lags behind countries such as France that have already boosted efforts to improve the quality and purity of foods fed to the nation. While the Clean Label Project is an American organization, many of the products tested can be found in Canada.

“We pulled over 130 of America’s best selling protein powders in accordance with Nielson data, the best seller list, and supplemented that list with top sellers in the natural/organic retail channel and consumer favorites mentioned on fitness blogs and websites,” stated the Clean Label Project website.

Contaminants found in protein powders are a result of sourcing and production practices, according to the Clean Label Project. “Contaminants can be found in soils because of pesticides and mining run-off  and can be absorbed into plants just like nutrients. They can also be the result of the manufacturing process (BPA/BPS is using the lining of cans and containers and leach into the protein powder).”

Lead toxicity can cause infertility, nerve disorders, and cognitive difficulties while consuming unsafe amounts of cadmium can lead to kidney damage or cancer. BPAs have been linked to thyroid disfunction, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Brace yourselves for some of the findings:


  • Of those protein powders tested, products with egg as a protein source tested cleaner.

  • Products that were plant-based as a protein source tested the worst.

  • A whopping 75% of plant-based products tested positive for lead.


  • Non-organic protein powders contained up to 1.5x more arsenic than organic powders.

  • Non-organic protein powders contained up to 4.8x more cadmium than organic powders.

  • Non-organic protein powders contained up to 1.5x more lead than organic powders.



Receiving five star ratings (powders considered to be above average in terms of overall purity) are:

  • Puori PW1 Vanilla Pure Whey Protein

  • Ancient Nutrition Cinnamon Apple Bone Broth Protein

  • Animal Muscle Food Frosted Cinnamon Bun Whey

  • Biochem Vanilla/Natural/Chocolate 100% Whey Protein

  • Body Fortress Super Advanced Vanilla Whey Protein

  • BodyLogix Vanilla Bean Natural Whey

  • BSN Synthia- Strawberry Milkshake Protein Powder Drink Mix

  • Unflavored Clean&Pure Bulk Supplements

  • Naked Nutrition Naked Whey

  • Natural Factors Whey Factors Natural French Vanilla/Strawberry 100% Natural Whey Protein

  • Plantfusion Lean Vanilla Bean Plant Based Weight Loss


Receiving one star ratings (powders considered to be below average in terms of overall purity) are:

  • Vega Sport Plant-Based Vanilla/Chocolate Performance Protein

  • Vega Vanilla/Chocolate Protein&Greens

  • Vega One Plant-Based Mocha/Chocolate/Vanilla/Vanilla Chai/Mixed Berry All-In-One Shake

  • Sunwarrior Classic Plus Natural/Chocolate Sprouted & Fermented Plant-Based Protein

  • Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Creamy Vanilla/Turbo Chocolate Hydro Whey/Chocolate Supreme 100% Casein/Double Chocolate High-Protein Gainer

  • Quest Vanilla Milkshake/Peanut Butter Protein Powder

  • Nature’s Best Isopure Dutch Chocolate Low Carb/Vanilla Cream Zero Carb/Creamy Vanilla Zero Carb

  • Garden of Life Organic Shake & Meal Replacement Vanilla/Chocolate Cacao Raw Organic Meal

  • Garden of Life Organic Plant Formula Chocolate Raw Organic Protein

  • BSN Synthia-6 Chocolate Peanut Butter/Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder Drink Mix

It’s not a bad idea to invest in a product with high-quality ingredients. As is often the case, you get what you pay for.



Source: Clean Label Project, 2018.

Disclaimer: It’s important to exercise caution when reviewing studies conducted by consumer advocacy groups as the research is not peer-reviewed and is often a single lab analysis.