Is it safe to use protein powder if you have thyroid disease?
Is animal protein better than plant protein? Which one is ideal if you have thyroid disease?
How much protein should you consume each day? Will it help you with weight loss?
All of these questions are more will be answered in this article.
But to the point:
Yes, you can and should consume plant-based protein if you have thyroid dysfunction as it can potentially help you manage your weight and feel better.
The specifics are a little bit more complicated so let's dive in to help you gain a better understanding:
Using Protein Smoothies for Weight Loss & Thyroid Function
One of the main reasons that people want to use protein powder is to help manage their weight.
You've probably been told that working out and using protein powder is a good way to lose weight and build muscle.
But is that actually working for you?
Do you feel good after you consume typical protein powder? Are you actually losing weight?
The answer, for most people, is no.
But why is that?
Much of it has to do with how the protein is sourced (are you getting your protein from an animal source or a plant source) and the extra or additional ingredients in protein powder.
This is important because if you have thyroid disease then you should be considered in a different 'group' when compared to other people.
Some people are able to pound down whey protein shakes, lose weight, and feel better.
But if you don't tolerate dairy products (whey is a dairy product) then you might be doing more harm than good for your intestinal tract.
In addition to dairy, most thyroid patients also do not tolerate soy or gluten (1) which can come in certain types of protein powder.
So what is a thyroid patient supposed to do?
If you fit into any these categories then you'll want to look for a protein powder which has the following attributes:
- Dairy-free (2), soy-free (3), gluten-free
- Contains an array of amino acids
- Contains additional ingredients and vitamins
- Contains plant-based protein
- Contains 10-20 grams of protein per serving (too much can limit weight loss)
- Does NOT contain inactive fillers, binders, GMO products, non-organic ingredients
By keeping your protein clean, you can ensure that you absorb all of the protein and that it gets into your system.
My personal recommendation is to use a protein powder such as this one, which fits all of the criteria above and is the protein powder that I use for myself and the one that I recommend to my patients.
The ideal way to use protein is mixed in a smoothie which contains fresh or frozen fruit, fresh vegetables, water as a base, and other whole foods.
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Plant-Based Protein vs Animal Protein
There isn't necessarily anything inherently wrong with using animal protein over plant protein.
Plant protein often comes from pea protein,
Animal protein most often comes from dairy or whey protein.
One of the main issues with whey protein, in the context of thyroid patients, is that it can potentially cause intestinal issues and exacerbate immune function in thyroid patients (4).
Another point worth considering is that plant protein is often easier to digest and absorb when compared to some animal proteins.
Your goal, when using protein, should be to get as much as possible into your body (along with other nutrients in the protein) to benefit your body quickly.
On the other hand, certain types of proteins can actually REDUCE inflammation and improve intestinal healing and these are the types of protein that you want to be consuming.
Does that mean all thyroid patients need to avoid whey protein?
Not necessarily, but I do think that starting with plant protein is probably a good idea for almost all thyroid patients.
Once you start with plant-based protein you can determine how you tolerate the protein and see how your intestinal tract responds.
After about 2-3 months you can determine if you want to trial whey based protein powders or stick with your plant protein powder.
I don't personally suffer from thyroid issues but I prefer plant-based protein powders because they are much easier on my intestinal tract and I just overall feel better when using them!
My wife, who does have thyroid problems, also prefers pea-protein powder for the same reason.
We both consume protein powders on a daily basis!
How Much is Too Much Protein?
Is it possible to consume too much protein?
The answer is obviously, yes!
Even though protein powder is a great and effective tool for thyroid patients you can always consume too much of a good thing.
But how do you know if you are consuming too much?
You can let your body weight and muscle mass be your guide.
Your goal, when consuming protein powder, is to find the amount of protein you need to maintain your muscle mass (6).
For most people (with normal muscle mass) this value is probably around 15-20% of your daily calories from protein.
If you are trying to build muscle mass (which helps with weight loss) then you can increase this value up to 25-30% of your daily calories.
If you are trying to lose weight (on the other hand) you may want to limit the amount of protein that you consume each day!
Excess protein can stimulate the insulin response which may promote more fat gain and exacerbate existing insulin resistance (7) (there's a good chance you have insulin resistance if you are overweight!).
Don't be worried too much about using a protein powder if you are trying to lose weight, though.
It's only really an issue if you are consuming a very high protein diet (60% of your calories or higher from protein each day) or if you are slamming down 3+ protein shakes each day.
This type of protein powder use will NOT help you with weight loss long-term and should be avoided.
A great weight loss strategy is to use 1-2 scoops of plant-based protein powder each and every day (usually in a morning smoothie) and to eat a moderate amount of whole-food based protein options as well.
This strategy will not result in weight gain and should not exacerbate insulin resistance.
Can Protein be Used as a Meal Replacement?
No, no, no, and no.
Protein powder (by itself) should absolutely not be used a meal replacement or as a way to reduce your total calories.
If you use your protein powder in this way you may lose weight temporarily but you will eventually cause metabolic damage which will make weight loss impossible later in your life (8).
The only reason it's safe to restrict your calories is if you are fasting for a targeted and specific set of time!
Otherwise, you are doing more harm than good.
I realize that most people do recommend that you use protein powder as a way to reduce your calories and as a meal replacement but this is not the way that you should be using it.
Protein powder is best used as a dietary SUPPLEMENT (9) which can be used to supplement whatever you are currently eating.
It should NOT be used by itself as a meal replacement to help you reduce your calories.
Protein powder provides you with a pure source of high-quality protein that you can basically consume on demand!
So, how should you use it?
The best way to use it is in a morning smoothie which contains other ingredients including fruits, vegetables, water, and other ingredients as necessary.
By using your protein powder in this way you are getting more than just protein powder and it will actually fill you up!
You can also use your protein as a snack with just water, but if you use it make sure you are eating complete meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Breakdown of Amino Acids in Protein Powders Matters
Protein powder is kind of an ambiguous name which is given to any supplement which contains an array of 'proteins'.
But what are proteins?
Proteins are compounds which your body can use for energy and which your cells use to create hormones.
But there are many different types of proteins and not all animal or plant sources contain the same protein profile as others.
In fact, without realizing it, you are probably overconsuming certain types of protein because you tend to eat the same meals over and over.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing by itself, I'm just using this as an example to further illustrate how protein powder can benefit you.
Protein powders come pre-formulated with an array of multiple amino acids (which are proteins).
Certain protein powders, such as collagen, contain high amounts of proline, glycine, and glutamic acid.
Other protein powders may contain similar amino acids but probably not in as high a concentration.
Why does this matter?
It's important to find a protein powder which contains an array of multiple different types of amino acids to ensure that your body is getting enough of all protein types.
You can find the list of 'a typical amino acid profile' per serving on all protein powders.
Benefits of Protein Powder
There are plenty of reasons to use protein powder on a daily basis and I've included several of the reasons why I use on every day and why I frequently recommend them to thyroid patients below:
#1. May Enhance Weight Loss
The first and probably most important reason is for weight management and for weight loss.
I definitely don't consider protein powder to be a true 'weight loss supplement' but any means, but it can definitely augment existing therapies to help with weight loss.
What do I mean?
Using protein can help manage your weight by helping to improve your muscle mass.
The more muscle mass you have the higher your metabolism will be and the more calories you will burn.
In addition, using protein can also help reduce sugar cravings and help you manage your appetite.
This occurs because protein sends signals to the brain to let your brain know that you are 'full'.
The net effect is that you snack less and you feel full for longer periods of time.
#2. Easy way to get more Nutrients
Using a protein powder every day is an easy way to 'sneak' in nutrients that would otherwise be difficult to get.
What do I mean?
Protein powders often taste very good which means you can hide other 'not-so-tasting-good' supplements inside of them.
Ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, iodine, and other nutrients can all be placed inside your protein powder.
This is great because it helps to provide you with more nutrients without you tasting a difference.
I created my protein powder in such a way that it contains a complete array of nutrients required for thyroid function.
This way you can reduce the burden of taking multiple supplements each day while still getting both protein and nutrients all at once.
#3. Quick and Easy to Prepare
Another big benefit is that you can easily prepare a protein shake with just a few ingredients.
Put some water or juice into a blender, throw in 1-2 scoops of protein powder, and you have a delicious meal which will help keep you full and is easy to prepare.
This makes it ideal for quick snacks (but not meal replacements!).
#4. Tastes Delicious!
Another huge benefit is obviously the taste!
Eating healthy food can definitely be tasty, but it requires that you have a working knowledge of how to cook and how to combine flavors.
For some people, this can be difficult and it can make eating healthy not quite as appetizing (or as easy) as simply eating unhealthy food.
Protein powder can make this transition much easier because it does taste incredibly good.
Many of my patients who use protein powder find that it helps to reduce their sugar cravings and reduces the need for binging on unhealthy food.
Protein Powder for Thyroid Patients
I've spent a lot of time researching and creating what I think is the ideal blend of amino acids, protein, and ingredients for thyroid patients.
If you don't tolerate pea protein then you also have other options as well.
Animal-based proteins (which are not whey-derived) can also be beneficial.
This includes some protein powders such as collagen or protein powders made from beef-isolate.
As you look for a protein powder just ensure that it is soy-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free as you will find the best results with this combination.
In addition, you'll also want to find protein powders which include additional ingredients (as opposed to just protein and amino acids).
In Functional Fuel, I've included a list of pre-methylated and pre-activated ingredients which are easy to absorb and utilize by the body.
These ingredients are also designed to help improve thyroid function and can reduce the total number of supplements you need to take.
Almost every thyroid patient can stand to benefit from the use of protein powder as a part of their daily supplement regimen.
Whether you are looking for weight loss, more energy, or a quick and easy snack, protein powder can help you get there.
My recommendation is that you stick to supplements which contain plant-based protein, which contain additional ingredients, and which do not contain products that can cause negative reactions (gluten, dairy, and soy).
If your goal is weight loss make sure that you do not use protein powder as a meal replacement! Instead, use it as a snack or as a supplement to a whole-food smoothie in the morning.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you currently using protein powder?
Is it working to help your thyroid?
Are you experiencing any negative symptoms such as nausea or headaches afterward?
What type of protein are you using?
Leave your questions or comments below!
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