There is a plethora of protein powders out there. While most experts recommend getting protein from a natural diet, protein powders are an excellent (and often necessary) option in some groups. With so many choices out there, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — or other gut conditions worsened by FODMAPs — can have a hard time determining the best protein powder for them.
In this article, we’ll look at what protein is and why you need it, the types of protein powders, whether whey protein isolate is low FODMAP, and what other low FODMAP protein powder options IBS patients have.
What is protein?
Protein is one of three fundamental molecules that make up our body (the other two being carbohydrates and fats). Protein is present in every cell of the body, and one of its main functions is to provide structural support to the body. One example is skin — when skin protein (collagen) starts to break down with aging, people get wrinkles.
All enzymes and many hormones in the body are also made up of proteins. Enzymes and hormones regulate important body functions like:
● Blood pressure
● Basal metabolic rate
● Nervous system activity
● Reproductive functions
Proteins (specifically a large protein called albumin) also helps maintain the blood pressure by keeping liquid within the blood vessels.
Finally, proteins are an integral component of muscles. People who want to strengthen their muscles must increase the amount of protein in their diet. People with very low intake of protein or diseases that affect protein metabolism may have weak muscles.
Who needs protein powders?
While everyone requires protein, not everyone needs a protein powder. Most experts recommend getting protein from natural foods such as eggs, meat, and milk. However, in some people, the bodily requirement of protein is greater than what can be fulfilled by diet alone. For these people, protein powders are a good choice.
Examples of people who can benefit from a protein powder include:
● Pregnant women
● Breastfeeding women
● Patients who’ve just had surgery
● People with a healing wound (proteins like collagen play an important role in wound healing)
What are the types of protein powders?
There are three main types of protein powders — concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. The difference lies in how much processing the powder has undergone and understanding these types can help you determine which protein powders may be low FODMAP easily.
In a concentrate, protein is extracted from a food item via acid, heat, or enzymes. This is the least processed type of protein powder and contains carbohydrates and fats as well. This is why its FODMAP concentration is relatively high. You can expect a concentrate to have around 60-80% protein.
If you take a protein concentrate and remove the carbs and fats from it, you get an isolate. An isolate is made up 80-90% protein and because it doesn’t have carbs, its FODMAP content is lower.
In a hydrolysate, protein is broken down into its building blocks (amino acids) using heat or enzymes. This makes it easier for the body to absorb the powder. The protein and FODMAP content of a hydrolysate can vary.
Is whey protein isolate low FODMAP?
Yes, whey protein isolate is low FODMAP.
Whey refers to the liquid that’s separated from curd by enzymes during the cheesemaking process. The liquid is then dried and then turned into a whey concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate depending on the level of processing.
Whey concentrate is high FODMAP and may trigger symptoms in IBS patients. This is because it contains lactose, a disaccharide sugar that can get fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. If the label says lactose-free, whey concentrate can be considered low FODMAP.
As mentioned above, an isolate is the purest form of protein. This makes whey isolate low FODMAP and a good choice for IBS patients.
While whey hydrolysate is great for easy absorption, it may not always be low FODMAP. Unless the label says lactose-free, you should avoid hydrolysate if you have IBS.
It’s not only about the protein
When it comes to protein powders, it can be easy to overlook ingredients other than the protein. Remember, protein is not the only component of protein powder — additional ingredients are added to add flavor or preserve the product and these ingredients may be high in FODMAP. Even if the protein is safe, these additional ingredients can make the overall product inappropriate for IBS patients.
Look out for the following high FODMAP ingredients when purchasing protein powder:
● Polyols — these include xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol and are used as artificial sweeteners. Polyols make up the “P” in FODMAP.
● Lactose on whey products
● Prebiotics — this is basically another term for FODMAP and includes ingredients like inulin, Jerusalem artichoke, and chicory root.
● High-fructose corn syrup
Casa de Sante low FODMAP certified protein powders contain whey protein isolate and no high FODMAP ingredients, so you can eat with confidence.
Other low FODMAP protein powders
If you can’t get your hands on whey isolate, other low FODMAP protein powders can act as good substitutes. These include:
● Egg protein — eggs don’t have carbs so you can be sure it egg protein won’t have FODMAPs
● Pea protein isolate
● Rice protein
● Soy protein — especially soy isolate. But watch out for soy protein derived from soybeans (instead of milk) as that’s not low FODMAP
● Sacha inchi protein
● Hemp protein — however, more research is needed to declare this low FODMAP with confidence. For now, you may want to avoid this.
The FODMAP content of protein powders depends on how they’ve been processed. Protein isolates (like whey isolate) are the purest form of proteins and because they don’t contain carbs, they’re safe for IBS patients.
If you can’t find whey isolate, several other options like egg protein, pea protein isolate, and rice protein are available.
Remember, protein supplementation is not required in normal, healthy individuals. If you’re healthy (and not an athlete, bodybuilder, or vegetarian), you should aim to fulfill your protein requirements via a balanced and natural diet!