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Protein Powder: Real Food? Review Finds Best Natural Option!

Wondering if collagen (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!) protein powder measures up next to whey protein, pea, hemp, and other vegan options? And is protein powder even a healthy, real food option for those who are working hard to live a clean eating lifestyle but want an extra protein boost for their brain, muscles, or pregnancy? We tested over a dozen to help you find the BEST natural, healthy protein powder.

natural protein powder

Whether you believe protein builds muscle and should be added to drinks or not, I think we can all agree that it’s necessary.

I mean, it’s one of the three macronutrients and proven to optimize brain function, as well as its normal tasks of building and repairing bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and bones. It can’t be stored in the body for later, either, which is why my list of high-protein foods and snacks is a good one to keep close at hand. Sources: 1, 2

If you’ve ever done the Bradley Birth method for pregnancy/labor, you’ve had to try to get 140g of protein per day. I used to win the “competition” among ladies in my class a lot, because it can be difficult to get that high (and I’m kinda competitive). I wish I had know back then about the discovery we made while testing protein powders for this post; it would have been even easier to be the champion! 😉

Additionally, protein is vital for brain function and can help performance on standardized testing days, along with healthy fats and other brain boosters.

My husband works out fairly regularly and has always done the protein shake thing to build muscle afterward. Over the years I’ve stuck my nose in and asked him to try many protein powders that were more natural than the conventional ones found on the shelf, and we’ve certainly had some successes and some failures!

Along with recommendations from readers and my team, here are hubby’s personally tested reviews of collagen protein powder and natural (and not-so-natural) whey and vegan protein powders – and we do think we found the best clean protein powder, hands down, without question.

The Natural Protein Powder Reviews

Just so you know, my husband always loved the off-the-shelf protein powders with vanilla flavoring and plenty of sweetener (the one time that artificial sweeteners often got past him without him hating it!). So it’s a challenge for an unsweetened, unflavored protein powder to score decently at all with him, and he really wasn’t sure about collagen protein powder living up to the claim that it disappears even in water.

I asked him to try each one in the exact same way, with a cup of milk and nothing else added.

Here are the results, in no particular order…except for the CLEAR winner, which I make you wait until the end to see! 😉

(Because serving sizes vary, the best way to compare prices is the price per gram of protein, which we’ve noted to the best of our ability.)

Note: Although vegan sources of protein are very popular, it’s important to understand that if your only source of protein is plants, you may not be getting the muscle-building profile you need. See this 2015 study by Vliet, Burd, and Loon for more. 

Vital Whey Protein Powder
Overall
4
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Details: No sweeteners, minimal pasteurization and processing, grass-fed cows, no soy, 16 g. protein/serving (~$.09/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: Good – on par with the old conventional powders hubby was used to.

Texture: Needs to be shaken well or whizzed with an immersion blender, but fairly smooth after that.

Dissolvability: Mixes well.

Pros

  • Clean ingredients
  • Good taste

Cons

  • Needs to be blended really well



Growing Naturals Pea Protein Powder
Overall
4.3
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Growing Naturals Protein PowderDetails: Variety of flavors available; we don’t recommend the plain! Vegan, allergen-friendly, 15 g. protein/serving (~$.07 per gram of protein as of 1/30/20)

Taste: Yuck! Tastes like peas – we even tried mixing it into chili but it just soaked up all the liquid and made the entire batch taste like…peas. Another test time he wrote, “Tastes and smells like animal food.” It would be interesting to try the chocolate version, but I can’t imagine anything the company could add could hide that pea flavor!

And then we tried it…maybe we forgot the initial test had been so poor, but the reviews from my high-schooler and my husband are that it’s fine. It definitely tastes a little “healthy” and it’s not like melted ice cream or anything, but there’s no strange aftertaste. I don’t know how they hid the peas, but score for Growing Naturals! Not as good as some others, but if you want a vegan protein powder with super clean ingredients and no questionable sweeteners (Growing Naturals uses coconut sugar and stevia), I’d highly recommend giving this one a try. Just don’t buy the plain version!

Texture: This powder mixed in the most easily of my chocolate head-to-head tests, just 40 quick whisks with a fork and only a few spots undissolved. It’s very smooth!

Dissolvability: Easy! Just a stir gets this powder fairly well mixed in and smooth.

Pros

  • Chocolate option
  • Good texture
  • Vegan
  • Dissolves simply by stirring

Cons

  • Plain tastes like peas



Mt. Capra Goat Milk Caprotein
Overall
2.5
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Best Natural Real Food Protein PowderDetails: Vanilla, unsweetened, soy-free, 13g protein/serving. (~$.15/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: It’s “ok” in coffee and deemed downright “not drinkable” in plain milk. Hubby always preferred it like this.

Texture: A bit chalky in straight milk.

Dissolvability: Must be shaken, but really good and smooth after that!

Pros

  • Dissolves smoothly
  • No cow casein

Cons

  • Taste is not great
  • Chalky texture



Mt. Capra Double-Bonded Goat Milk Protein Powder
Overall
2.3
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

double bonded protein chocolate
Details: Chocolate, stevia-sweetened, soy-free, 20g protein/serving (~$.12/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: Better than hemp or pea proteins, but still not delicious. Always in coffee.

Texture: Chalky.

Dissolvability: Must be shaken but does get smooth.

Pros

  • Chocolate flavored
  • Gets smooth

Cons

  • Doesn’t taste great
  • Chalky texture



Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder
Overall
3.8
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Nutiva Hemp

Details: Unflavored, unsweetened, soy-free, 15 g. protein/serving (~$.05/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: Better than pea protein. Has a “healthy” taste that I like to hide in coffee.

Dissolvability: So-so, must be shaken.

Pros

  • Vegan and plant-based
  • Very low cost

Cons

  • Tastes “healthy”
  • Doesn’t dissolve great



Ultrafoods Raw Chocolate Protein Powder
Overall
3.8
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Details: Organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free, sprouted, and bio-fermented. 14.6g protein/serving (~$.14/gram of protein as of 1/30/20)

Taste: This one is my 14-year-old son’s favorite. He describes other flavors as “off” and my theory is that his palate is sensitive to processed stevia and other “sort of natural” zero calorie sweeteners. This brand is top-notch with their commitment to quality, clean ingredients, and the only sweetener is luo han fruit protein, otherwise known as monk fruit extract. I’ve found monk fruit to have the least aftertaste of any zero calorie sweetener I’ve tried, tied with liquid stevia extract. I think any teen or adult would see the flavor as a treat, not a chore.

Texture: Gets a little chunky because of dissolvability issues.

Dissolvability: This one really struggles to be mixed in by stirring or shaking; it would benefit from a power tool. But once it’s shaken in, it doesn’t really settle to the bottom as badly as some others.

Pros

  • Excellent taste with no stevia aftertaste
  • Vegan, gluten-free, allergy-friendly
  • Super clean ingredients

Cons

  • Difficult to dissolve; needs a power tool.

Vega Plant-Based Protein and Greens, Vanilla
Overall
3.5
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Details: Plant-based, vegan, greens powders incorporated. Available at some Costco stores. 20g protein/serving. (~$.06/gram of protein as of 1/31/2020)

Taste: This is my husband’s current favorite flavor, but my son says it tastes “like vanilla, just off.” It’s only sweetened with stevia but has some greens in it (can he taste those?). I agree with him; it’s just “off” like something is trying to be covered up by the vanilla flavor. It doesn’t taste natural at all.

Texture: Creamy with a bit of chalky at the end.

Dissolvability: This powder did dissolve really well, nearly disappearing with just a fork. That makes it versatile, but I still didn’t love the flavor.

Pros

  • Vegan
  • Dissolves very well

Cons

  • Tastes “off”
  • A little chalky



Miessence Complete Protein
Overall
3
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Miessence Protein PowderDetails: Unflavored, organic, raw, vegan, hypo-allergenic, soy-free, 20 g. protein/serving (~$.12/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: Healthy…but not terrible.

Texture: Can be a little grainy; left a little residue on the bottom of the glass when finished.

Dissolvability: Mixes well with a spoon (which can’t be said about all of them and is a nice break from having to get out a power tool).

Pros

  • Organic, raw, and vegan
  • Can be mixed with a spoon

Cons

  • Grainy
  • Tastes “healthy”
  • Higher price point

Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder, Chocolate Fudge
Overall
3.3
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Details: Organic, fiber-rich, plant-based. 21g protein/serving. (~$.06/gram of protein as of 1/30/2020)

Taste: Both husband and teen son said this one is “okay” but they prefer a number of others. I can totally taste the sweeteners (erythritol is in there) and I could never even drink one glass! Although…after it sat a while, it mellowed out, strangely enough.

Texture: This one presents as a bit chalky, but we’ve had worse. This also mellows after it sits.

Dissolvability: It takes some work to get this one to mix in by shaking in a jar, some chunks evident, plus it settles to the bottom a bit over time and may get wasted stuck to the bottom of your container.

Pros

  • Inexpensive for organic
  • Plant-based

Cons

  • A little chalky
  • Hard to mix up
  • Artificial sweetener taste



Tera's Whey Bourbon Vanilla Whey Protein
Overall
4
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Details: Ethically sourced from small family farms, gluten-free, lightly sweetened with stevia. Organic option. 21g protein/serving (~$.07/gram of protein for non-organic; ~$.13/gram of protein for organic as of 1/30/20)

Taste: If you like vanilla ice cream better than chocolate, my husband says get the vanilla and you’ll really enjoy drinking this grassfed protein. The light sweetener doesn’t taste artificial.

Texture: Smooth and creamy once it’s mixed in.

Dissolvability: No chalky-ness.

Pros

  • No artificial sweetener taste
  • Not chalky
  • Made with Madagascar bourbon vanilla

Cons

  • Organic is in higher price range



Our Control? MET-Rx Protein Plus
Overall
4
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

met RXI wasn’t sure whether I should title this one “control” or “oops.” We ordered it from a “natural” online shop and I guess I didn’t scour ingredients like I usually do! It’s totally a conventional protein powder but made for a good comparison since it happened to be in the house.

Details: Chocolate or Vanilla, 22 g. protein/serving ($.02/gram of protein as of 1/31/20)

Taste: Great – likely due to all the dangerous artificial sweeteners such as Acesulfame Potassium and sucralose. 🙁 This is a conventional product that many people grab.

Texture: Of course, perfect and smooth.

Dissolvability: Mixes really well.

But we wouldn’t – couldn’t! – recommend it because of artificial sweeteners and unnatural protein sources.

 

Pros

  • Mixes well
  • Tastes good

Cons

  • Dangerous artificial sweeteners
  • Unnatural protein sources
  • Totally conventional

Best Natural Protein Powder? And The Winner Is…

The winner is the one that had no taste, mixed in perfectly smooth so that we couldn’t even tell it was there, is perfectly natural from trusted sources, and packs a punch with massive amounts of protein per serving.

It came out of nowhere as a surprise addition to our list, because it’s not something often billed as “protein powder.” In fact, I am glad now that I didn’t put this review together last year when we started working on it, because I would have totally missed this and ended up giving you only a handful of mediocre choices instead of a clear conqueror!

The best natural protein powder award goes to…

The Best Natural Protein Powder Ever - Collagen protein powder

The one at the top left:

Collagen Protein Powder

Collagen is the protein from bone broth once it’s been sort of over-boiled so that the gel part of the gelatin (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!)breaks down, but all the proteins and health benefits for joints, skin, and hair are still there.

It can be mixed into cold or hot liquids as I detailed here, and check this out:

It totally disappears.

There’s no taste.

No change in consistency of the milk (or whatever liquid you choose) when collagen protein powder is stirred in. You don’t even need a power tool (although collagen can clump a little if you don’t whisk it in right away).

My husband said with a bit of awe and wonder in his voice, “If this is an option, why are we even bothering to test out all those others? This is obvious!

“Clear” may be a misnomer because you can SEE the collagen in water, but in other drinks, it’s just poof gone! I prefer to mix it into tea, coffee, or smoothies myself.

You can find well-sourced collagen powder from a couple of brands, including:

By well-sourced, I mean that the cows are grass-fed and sustainably sourced, very important when you’re using animal products in my opinion. Perfect Supplements (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!)‘ collagen is even certified glyphosate free!

Final Review, WINNER: Perfect Supplements Hydrolyzed Collagen as Best Natural Protein Powder

Perfect Supplements Hydrolyzed Collagen
Overall
4.5
  • Tastes Good?
  • Texture
  • Price Point
  • Clean Ingredients

Summary

Perfect Supplements collagenDetails: Unflavored, unsweetened, 10 g. protein/11 g. serving – 97% protein (~$.07/gram of protein as of 1/31/20) Save 25% by buying 3! 100% satisfaction guarantee!

Taste: ZERO!

Texture: No change in starting liquid.

Dissolvability: Perfectly with a spoon – the bonus to collagen peptides over gelatin is that they dissolve in cold liquids as well, and do NOT make them gel.

Pros

  • No taste
  • Can go in hot or cold liquids
  • Dissolves smoothly and without gelling
  • No blender required

Cons

  • None!

Use coupon code KS10 for 10% off your order at Perfect Supplements!

One Caveat When Using Collagen as a Protein Powder for Muscle Building

We should note that if your goal with protein powder is primarily to build muscles, the amino acid profile of collagen powder may not be ideal.

It’s been fairly well proven that eating meat for protein does help build muscle, although more-more-more isn’t always better — this 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that anything over 30g in one meal doesn’t make more of an impact than a 4-ounce steak.

There is a pretty full protein profile in gelatin/collagen because it’s an animal protein, whereas plant proteins have less protein and a narrower amino acid profile in comparison (see this 2018 study by Gorissen, Crombag, et. al. for more).

Perfect Supplements explains that their collagen does not contain tryptophan, but it does contain 8 of the 9 essential amino acids. It’s high in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which may build human cartilage (good for joints!), assist digestion, and improve skin, hair, and nail quality (that’s the effect I see most strongly!).

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine seem to be prized for muscle building, and the whey protein powder we have around is much, much higher in those areas than collagen, while collagen excels in glycine and proline. It does have the others, but in lesser amounts. However, some sources note that glycine is also key for muscle tissue repair. (Sources: 1, 2, 3)

This 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition claims that as long as you get 2g of leucine per “dose” of protein, you’ll get sufficient muscle mass benefits, although more research is needed. Testing showed the collagen to be 2.7% leucine. Since one scoop of PS collagen is 11 grams, I’m assuming that you’d get about .3g leucine per scoop, so to really build muscle, you’d need over 6 scoops.

However — remember that collagen is not going to be your only source of protein for the day AND that we’re still learning about exactly how muscles are built. So if collagen protein powder is one part of your healthy consumption of protein during a day, you may be doing yourself a favor in multiple categories.

What to Consider if you Try a Protein Powder & Value Clean Eating

I strongly encourage you to look for real food sources of protein if you are looking to increase your protein intake by supplementing outside of regular meals.

Between my husband, my team here, and reader feedback, here are some items to note:

  • Read your labels regarding refrigeration after opening. Many of these more natural ones require that but it wasn’t something I realized.
  • Stay away from soy protein – too many questions about its safety, especially for women.
  • Consider how the protein was processed – many “whey” based proteins are spray-dried at high pressure and can cause oxidation and create free radicals.
  • Always check your sweetener – look for NONE, or from fruit sources, stevia, monkfruit, etc. Stay away from the artificial sweeteners like sucralose, Nutrasweet (aspartame) and acesulfame potassium as well as sugar alcohols like erythritolNote: Stevia can be processed in many different ways, some more natural than others!
  • Do you recognize the ingredients?
  • If animal-based protein, were the animals well-sourced? Look for grass-fed!
  • Protein from whole food sources cannot go unmentioned.

In fact, if you happen to use protein powder in a smoothie anyway, collagen or otherwise, you might as well add a few MORE natural sources of protein! Our smoothies always include chia and/or hemp seeds, both high protein and with healthy omega-3 fats to boot.

They both blend right in beautifully with a high-powered blender, although I’m not sure how they’d do in a standard blender and definitely a “no” if you just use an immersion blender.

chia and hemp seeds

More Options for Natural Protein Powders

We could only try so many varieties, so I’ve simply listed out several others that were recommended we try in case you are looking for more options (as far as I know these are pretty darn whole-foods based!):

Do you use protein powders? What’s your favorite and why?

Disclaimer: We here at Kitchen Stewardship® are not doctors or nutritionists. Please do your own research and consult your doctor when adding supplements to your diet.

I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…

reviewed and recommended
 

…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.

When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.

Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!

17 thoughts on “Protein Powder: Real Food? Review Finds Best Natural Option!”

  1. I use chickpea plant based protein powder invented by a dietician and it’s tasteless and smooth. It’s also low in sodium. www.simplyfuel.com.

  2. This was a great review! We love the JP Complete! Water or plant milk in a blender bottle and shake, in a smoothie, with energy balls, or other baked things. I can send you some information about the soy and how it is processed. It’s all NSF certified and has 30+ published research studies on their products.
    My almost two year old loves it as a pudding where you just mix a little plant milk to the desired consistancy.
    Thanks for testing these!

  3. A couple years ago when I thought I should add whey protein for its benefits to my regular Perfect Supplements Collagen, I sampled Wild Whey from Wild Foods. Grass-fed cows, all the right ingredients (immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, serum albumin) and none of the bad – and it tastes pleasantly of milk. Think it blended well, too. The label may be misleading on some of these products if they list amounts based on 100g protein, as Wild Foods does.

  4. Hi Katie! Thanks for your review! Could you add the Arbonne Vegan Protein Boost to your product review? Happy to send it to you to test it out:) No sweetener, no flavor. Can add to smoothies, baking, lots of great food recipes. Rice, cranberry, yellow pea legume combo- giving it a complete amino acid profile. 100% gluten-free, nonGMO, kosher. I know it will help a lot of people:) Thanks for all you do!

  5. Thanks for this review! I’ve been playing around with protein powders lately and like your husband have found that they are pretty strongly flavored, chalky and not always so dissolvable. Currently I’m finishing off a canister of Tera’s Whey which is from grass fed cattle – unflavored because I don’t want all the extra flavors, sweeteners, etc in the shake type powders. It’s just whey protein and some sunflower lecithin to help it dissolve better. I really don’t like it, but…

    I have tried Vital Proteins collagen and liked it well enough. I could still smell and taste it but much less than any whey protein I’ve tried.

    However, I understood that whey protein is better if you were interested in gaining muscle and collagen was better for joint health issues and not so much on the muscle building front. Have you seen different research? It seems like why you want the added protein in your diet matters when deciding what type of protein to supplement with.

    1. Ooo. That’s a very good question, Marcella – there is a pretty full protein profile in gelatin/collagen, not just “one type,” but I haven’t checked to see if any amino acids are missing, for example, or which types of protein might be recommended for muscle vs. joints vs. building babies etc. A quick Google search (not very scientific but a start) is revealing that you may be right. The aminos Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine seem to be prized for muscle building, and the whey protein powder we have around is much, much higher in those areas than collagen, while collagen excels in glutamic acid and glycine. It does have the others, but in lesser amounts. Interesting! I’ll have to poke into this subject more! Thank you! 🙂 Katie

  6. I have to agree, this stuff is awesome! I put it in banana smoothies to boost protein for my son who is small for his age. I actually bought several containers to keep in my emergency food storage. It would be so easy to incorporate protein into food if you were in an emergency situation without relying on yucky canned or freeze dried meat.

  7. Great review Katie! I’m surprised there was no mention of Vega protein powder. It’s a favorite among vegans and non-vegans alike! Our family loves their “proteins and greens” line of products because it’s got the protein and two servings of greens plus it tastes great. My kids 8, 6, and 4 love the vanilla best but hubby and I like the berry flavor best.

  8. Beth @ Turn2theSimple

    I’ve been using the Trim Healthy Mama integral collagen when I need to add more protein.
    https://store.trimhealthymama.com/product-p/1085-962463853.htm

    I lost 20 pounds in three months following the THM plan…and it is all real food! Over the next year I did not loose any weight but dropped two jeans sizes. I’m convinced that it was from increasing my protein intake along with my 4 times a week HIIT exercises (of only 20 minutes a session, I use the Mutu System).

  9. I’ve tried several of the protein powders you listed and I agree about the pea protein (yuk!). 😉 The one I use every morning it is considered a meal replacement because it has so much protein – 24 grams. It’s from Sta-Natural, and comes in chocolate & vanilla. I usually shake it up in my mixer bottle or sometimes will add fruit and blend it. I like it because it doesn’t have “junk” in it – no artificial sugars/colors/sweeteners or caffeine.

  10. Thanks for this article! I’ve been on the search for a gluten free, dairy free, soy free, stevia free protein powder that wasn’t junk. I’ll look to see if collagen products are available up here in Canada. Thanks! P.S. I didn’t like the pea protein one I got either.

  11. This is the protein powder I get for my son http://store.savingdinner.com/product/perfect-paleo-protein-chocolate/

  12. Thanks for the review. I’ve been trying to find healthy alternatives for my son (23) who is a weight lifter. He has some physical and mental health issues, in addition he is on the autistic spectrum and is sensitive to taste, odor, and texture. The collegen as a protein source looks promising.

    Question: what does your husband use for pre-workout? My son uses some caffeinated energy powder. His sleep doctor warned him against caffeine due to his sleep problems, varied work/sleep schedule, and interaction with his bipolar meds. But he complains that his energy levels can drop at anytime and if they do when he’s scheduled to workout he needs an option. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Deb, I hope the collagen works out for your son! As for pre-workout, my husband doesn’t do anything in particular. I would think that an energy drop during a workout would be better served by eating the right foods in the few hours before though – a balance of appropriate carbs and fats, like the medum-chain triglycerides in coconut oil, for example. I would direct you to anything from the Whole30 diet about working out and especially, I’m hoping Ben Greenfield has something about this. He does a lot with “bio-hacking” and I’d think he would. Good luck! 🙂 Katie

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