I’ll never forget Seth, my friend and neighbor in college, who, like many people, was lured by the clever marketing promoting protein shakes for weight loss. “Lisa, I started a diet this week!” he shared excitedly. “Check it out, I’m drinking this shake with all my meals and it’ll help me lose weight!” By adding shakes to his meals, he was on the path to gain weight, rather than lose it. I first commended him for working towards a healthier life, then gently educated him on the fact that these shakes are meant to be eaten instead of a meal rather than in addition to.
Brands that produce protein shakes for weight loss will claim that if you drink their shake, you’ll lose weight. This is both inaccurate and misleading. Losing weight is based on a calorie deficit — basically your body using more energy than it takes in. Protein shakes may be a helpful short-term tool for reducing your overall daily calorie consumption, but eventually, you’ll need to reincorporate solid food into your diet. The key is to learn which foods and lifestyle activities are sustainable and work best for you.
Why and how to use protein powder for weight loss
In an ideal world, you’d get all your protein and nutrients you need from a balanced diet. But we understand that sometimes that’s unrealistic when juggling work, family, and everything in between. When you’re struggling to meet your dietary needs through food, it may be helpful to supplement meals. For instance, if you’re still getting to grips with the ins and outs of a plant-based diet and unsure what foods contain protein, then one of the benefits of protein shakes is they will enable you to reach your recommended daily value.
Protein powder also makes sense if you’re eating breakfasts or snacks such as smoothies or cereals low in protein. The protein powder will keep your blood sugar stable and prevent cravings, hunger pangs, and dips in energy — which are saboteurs of weight loss. When shopping for protein powders, make sure to get minimally processed options with just a few ingredients.
Benefits of protein shakes with whole foods
When chosen correctly or made at home, protein shakes can increase the feeling of fullness and boost your metabolism all while maintaining muscle mass. The problem is that protein shakes for weight loss are often made from processed and inflammatory types of protein with lots of artificial additives.
Here are some dangerous chemicals to watch out for:
Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead: We’re not talking about Metallica here — heavy metals can be toxic and cause cancer when consumed in high doses.
Whey protein concentrate and caseinate: Processed and high in lactose, whey protein can lead to bloating and gastrointestinal upset.
Glucose/dextrin: These are other terms for sugar. Glucose and dextrin raise blood glucose levels which, when consumed frequently, can contribute to gastrointestinal distress and diabetes.
Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, Splenda, aspartame): These sweeteners can lead to headaches, migraines, gastric distress and even weight gain in some people.
Trans or hydrogenated fat: Vegetable oils are often used in protein shakes to lend them thickness but many times the oils used are hydrogenated, resulting in inflammation, cancer, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Thickeners (xanthan gum): These thickeners can produce bloating and stomach discomfort in some individuals.
There are many benefits to making your own protein shakes that go beyond shielding yourself from potentially harmful chemicals. One advantage is that whole foods increase the biological value of protein, vitamins, and minerals, meaning how well you absorb nutrients. Another reason is cost. When you buy a branded shake, you’re paying for the brand. There are a wide variety of low-cost foods that’ll feed your body with all the nutrients and protein it needs.
If you still can’t get yourself to commit making a home-made protein shake, at least aim to choose store-bought options with no artificial sweeteners, minimal to no sugar, and absolutely no hydrogenated oils or ingredients you can’t pronounce. Not sure how? Check the nutrition label and ingredient list.
Whole food protein shakes: For weight loss goals
These recipes meet our nutritionist-approved protein standards and made of 100% natural ingredients. The secret to making them weight loss-friendly? Focus on protein first. So, even if you’re not keen on the recipes below, you can prioritize the protein-packed ingredients — yogurt, nuts, seeds, peas — but experiment with flavor profiles.
Packed with high protein dairy this smoothie contains Greek yogurt and has about 11 grams per serving (150g). The bonus here is that Greek yogurt is lower in carbs due to the straining process, which removes some of the liquid whey along with lactose sugars. Top that with some skim milk which holds 8 grams of protein per cup (240ml) and you’re in for a berry protein delight.
Greek Yogurt & Berry Smoothie
- 1 cup milk (skim milk) (~8 oz)
- 1 ½ Tbsp ground flaxseeds (~½ oz)
- 20 almonds (~1 oz)
- ⅓ cup Greek yogurt, plain (full-fat) (~3 ½ oz)
- 1 cup berries, any kind (frozen or fresh) (~7 oz)
- 2 tsp fresh mint (chopped)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 ice cubes
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high.
- Serve in a glass and enjoy!
Making another welcome appearance, Greek yogurt! With its thick and creamy texture add some inflammation reducing flaxseed and ginger, and you’ve got the perfect smoothie to alleviate bloating. The sweet and tangy orange with spicy cinnamon will deliver a morning or post-workout boost.
Banana and Orange Smoothie
- ⅔ cup Greek yogurt, unsweetened (regular) (~6 oz)
- 2 ½ Tbsp ground flaxseeds (~1 oz)
- ½ banana (~2 oz)
- 1 orange (~5 oz)
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil (~½ oz)
- ½ cups water
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger (grated) (~⅓ oz)
- Peel and chop the banana and oranges then add to a blender along with the yogurt, flaxseed, coconut oil, cinnamon, grated ginger, and a splash of water.
- Blend on high until well mixed and smooth.
- Serve and enjoy!
Peas, yes please! We love adding peas to our recipes because they’re easy to find and chocked full of plant-based protein. Want to make your smoothie nice and chilly? Use frozen peas. This vegan protein treat is made with creamy avocado and unsweetened soy yogurt (or your preferred non-dairy alternative). Add a sprinkle of pepper and squeeze of lemon for a zesty kick.
Green Power Smoothie
- 1 zucchini (~7 oz)
- ¾ cup green peas (~4 oz)
- ¼ cup soy yogurt (~2 ¼ oz)
- 1 avocado (~5 oz)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- Add everything except the yogurt in a blender and blend.
- Pour the smoothie into a glass then add the yogurt on top.