Consuming Protein Powder During Pregnancy – Is it Safe?
When a woman is pregnant, her protein requirements increase significantly. If you are pregnant, your proteins require will increase too, and you can fulfil those requirements from various food sources – both plant-based and animal-based sources. But if you are vegan or do not eat meat, then you will have to consider protein powder. Protein powder is a good source of protein plus other vital nutrients. However, some of the additives in the powder, such as artificial sugars and preservatives, brings its safety to question, more so during pregnancy.
How Much Protein Does a Woman Need While Pregnant?
The protein requirement of a pregnant woman increases as the pregnancy progresses, and is the highest during the second and third trimester when the baby is growing rapidly. A woman’s protein requirements are considered as per the ideal body weight for her height and not as per actual weight. The ideal body weight in women can be calculated by this formula: Height (in cms) − 105 = Ideal body weight (in kgs).
Now, for example, if a woman weighs 70 kgs, but her ideal body weight as per the WHO standards is 55 kg then protein requirements would be as per 55 kg.
The standard protein requirements of a woman increase trimester-wise, and they mentioned below:
- First Trimester: 1-1.2g of protein per kg ideal body weight.
- Second Trimester: 1.5-1.8g protein per kg ideal body weight.
- Third Trimester: 1.8-2g protein per kg ideal body weight.
Are Protein Powders Safe to Consume During Pregnancy?
It cannot be said that protein powder supplements are completely safe for pregnant women, as they often contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose. Although these artificial sweeteners may be FDA approved and labelled as generally recognised as safe (GRAS), it cannot be said that they are safe for a pregnant woman and her growing foetus. Their safety is questionable as they are manmade and not natural. Some brands of protein powders can also have ingredients like creatine and caffeine in them which may not be good for foetal growth.
If you want to take protein powder as a supplement during pregnancy, it is suggested that you consult your doctor to understand whether or not you need it, and if yes, then which one you should opt for. Since most powders are made out of proteins such as whey, casein, and soy, women allergic to dairy products can switch to other organic protein powders that are safe for consumption during pregnancy.
Which Protein Shakes Are Safe for Pregnant Ladies?
Protein shakes that are made naturally, i.e., they do not have artificial flavours, colours, or nutrients added to them are usually safe to consume. But they should be consumed only after confirming that you are not allergic to that protein source.
There are many brands that promote well-being and use natural colours and flavours. Identifying such brands can help you meet your protein requirements, without you having to worry about its potential side effects. If you don’t want to buy protein shakes from the market, you can always make at home. After all, homemade is the best! To make a protein shake at home, you can use milk, nuts, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut and other natural ingredients.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying Protein Powder
If you must buy protein powder because your regular diet is lacking in protein, check these things before buying it.
1. Excess Caffeine and Vitamins
Many protein powder brands that are labelled diet-friendly or vegan have added vitamins and caffeine. You should avoid buying such brands as caffeine and excess vitamin intake is not recommended during pregnancy. You may already be on a prenatal multivitamin supplement or get all your micro-nutrients from a balanced diet. Hence, it is pointless and sometimes harmful to consume excessive vitamins. Caffeine intake should also be low during pregnancy and must be limited to under 200mg per day.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Protein powders containing xylitol, sucralose, maltitol also have some uncertainty over whether they pose a threat or not. However, as stevia is a plant and occurs from nature, it is considered the best choice among sweeteners. It’s best to avoid the powders containing these ingredients. Furthermore, to stay on the safer side, it’s best to avoid all artificial sweeteners and protein powders containing them.
It is important to note that acesulfame K that is used as a sweetener, is not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding women, and children. It is best to go through the nutritional facts and do thorough research over the internet. If you have any questions, you must take the advice of a nutritionist.
3. Fillers and Flavouring Agents
Fillers are substances added to protein powders to add bulk when mixed into a shake. They also give texture and consistency to the drink that makes it taste better. Some common fillers include xanthan gum, guar gum, palatinose and other ingredients that have little or no nutritional value. They can add some empty calories and make you feel fuller without any actual benefits. Flavouring agents are often devoid of any nutrition, and sometimes they are not all that natural as they claim to be. They are treated chemically and processed before making their way into the protein powders. So avoid powders containing fillers and flavouring agents.
4. Where the Powder Is Sourced From
Whatever you eat during pregnancy, it will reach your baby too in some form. So it is extremely important to pay attention to the sources of your protein powder. Check the manufacturer of the powder and its production methods and see if the product is free of pesticides, chemicals, and hormones. Doing some research into how it is made and what goes into their manufacturing methods will help. This is important when you opt for dairy-based powders containing whey and casein. Dairy products often contain traces of hormones such as rBGH (bovine growth hormone) which is not good for the foetus. Plant-based protein is good when it’s organic, and a good brand can always be traced back to its source.
Many of the products lately come with a warning label if they have ingredients that are unsuitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women or children, the same goes for protein powders. Usually, these powders contain substances such as creatine, taurine, caffeine, beta-alanine, acetyl L-carnitine HCL and a percentage of vitamins that exceeds your dietary recommendations. These labels allow you to choose safe powders, but not all of them come with the labels. Therefore, it is always a good idea to look into the ingredients and identify unsuitable substances.
Pregnancy is a time of making nutritious choices. If your protein requirements are not being met with the food you eat, you can opt for protein supplements like protein powder, but only after consulting with your doctor. With some research and validation by your doctor, it’s possible to pick a good protein powder to meet your protein requirements.
Also Read: Protein in Urine During Pregnancy