Whey protein and lactose intolerance: Can you drink it?
Lactose is a sugar found in milk products and requires the enzyme lactase to be broken down in the body. The problem is, many people do not produce enough of this enzyme and are therefore unable to fully digest the sugar lactose in dairy products.
This is when lactose intolerance occurs. When your digestive system does not produce enough lactase in order to break down the lactose sugar in the intestines, symptoms can show up.
This condition is common, affecting about 65% of the world's population.
What about whey? Can you drink it if you have lactose intolerance?
There are three main types of whey protein: whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate. Whey will contain varying amounts of lactose depending on the type of whey protein it is though processing will remove a lot of it.
Whey protein concentrate contains some lactose, as it is about 20% carbs, fat and lactose. For this reason, it is recommended to avoid if you are lactose intolerant to avoid potential discomfort.
Whey protein isolate contains less lactose than concentrate due to the processing that removes the lactose and milk fat. Whey protein isolates are considered lactose-free and said to contain less than 1% lactose, making it a better option for those with lactose intolerance.
Whey protein hydrolysate is regarded as the easiest and fastest to digest due to its pre-digested form. It is highly refined and removes all fat and lactose thus it is considered the best option for those with milk allergies.
As always listen to your body to determine if whey is something you can include in your diet or not.
What happens if you have whey protein powder when you're lactose intolerant?
Lactose intolerance is very common among the population and the reality is that the majority of people will experience a certain degree of lactose intolerance.
Though usually harmless, symptoms of lactose intolerance can be quite unpleasant and may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, loose stools, bloating, gas, and sometimes vomiting.
Depending on the quantity of lactose consumed, and the degree of lactose intolerance, symptoms may be more or less severe.
When it comes to choosing a protein shake, many products will contain milk proteins, such as whey, which can have varying amounts of lactose. Depending on the intolerance, some whey protein powders may be better absorbed than others. As mentioned above, whey concentrate is often less well tolerated than the other types, whey isolate and whey hydrolysate.
Due to its low lactose content, whey protein is still an option for those sensitive to lactose as most of the sugar is removed.
Lactose-free, vegan options for weight loss and muscle building
So what type of protein is best if you still want a protein supplement but want to avoid potential exposure to lactose? If you are concerned with lactose consumption and prefer an entirely dairy-free protein powder you should avoid all whey and casein protein powders. Luckily, there are many alternatives now on the market!
If you are wanting to go the vegan route, there are plenty of plant-based protein powder options that can provide all of the essential amino acids. Plant protein sources found in protein powders may include pea, brown rice, pumpkin seed, hemp seed, sunflower seed, sacha inchi seed, soy, quinoa, amaranth, or chia seeds. Most often protein powders will include a blend of these protein sources in order to provide a complete protein source. Let's take a closer look at the most common vegan proteins, shall we?
Brown rice protein
Brown rice protein has become a popular ingredient in vegan protein powders because it provides a variety of nutrients and antioxidants as well as amino acids. In fact, brown rice protein powder has even surpassed whey protein as the most popular form of protein powder on the market.
Brown rice does not provide all essential amino acids which is why it is commonly combined with other plant-based protein sources in order to compensate the amino acids that are lacking and give consumers a product that is a complete protein source.
Brown rice protein has been shown to be comparable to whey protein at improving body composition and exercise performance (1). One aspect to be cautious of is the concern of heavy metal contamination of rice such as arsenic (2). If you can obtain testing from the company to ensure it is free of heavy metals, that is always ideal.
As a hypoallergenic, gluten-free, dairy-free, and low glycemic option brown rice represents a suitable alternative for those who may have trouble consuming whey protein.
This type of protein is manufactured by extracting protein from split peas. Pea protein is considered one of the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it is naturally free of gluten, dairy, and soy and doesn't usually trigger unwanted symptoms like bloating.
For these reasons and its efficacy at supporting fitness performance, it has become a popular alternative to whey protein. Pea protein is almost a complete protein source but not quite as it is missing a few non-essential and conditional amino acids.
As it is rich in branched-chain amino acids, pea protein supports muscle protein synthesis, helping to build muscle mass, speed up recovery, and improve performance (3)(4). Pea protein has also been shown to be just as effective at building muscle as whey protein (5).
Pea protein's benefits don't just stop at its protein content, it is also a source of fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium. Though it is usually well-tolerated, it may be more difficult to digest than other vegan protein sources which is why it is recommended to rotate your protein sources or combine with other types.
Hemp protein is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, also known as cannabis sativa L. And no, hemp protein cannot make you high as it does not contain any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the compound known for its euphoric effects.
This plant protein provides 20 amino acids including the 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete source of protein though it is quite low in the essential amino acid lysine.
It is also an excellent source of nutrients such as fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and the essential omega 3 and omega 6 fats. It is one of the highest sources of fiber and omega 3 fats compared to other protein powders. This may be why it has also been shown to benefit heart health due to its anti-inflammatory properties and nutrients (6).
The protein found in hemp is easily digestible by the body and provides many anti-inflammatory nutrients. In addition to its complete amino acid profile, hemp protein makes for a healthy protein supplementation.
When choosing a hemp protein powder, look for cold-pressed seeds as heat processing can impair the digestibility of the protein (7).
Pumpkin seed protein
Pumpkin seeds are small yet they pack a nutritional punch! Pumpkin seed protein is a rich source of the minerals magnesium, zinc, potassium, calcium, selenium, and iron as well as fiber and healthy fats.
It is not considered a complete protein source, because it is low in the essential amino acids, threonine and lysine.
Its impressive nutrition profile may benefit many health aspects including kidney health, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and blood sugar control.
A complete protein powder, soy provides all of the essential amino acids needed by the body.
Soy protein is a good source of protein for vegans and vegetarians and those who do not tolerate dairy products. It offers many health benefits including glycemic control, weight loss, bone health in menopausal women, heart health, and even cancer prevention (10).
As soy does contain anti-nutrients, it may decrease the absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc.
Helping lactose-intolerant people find a protein powder
There are plenty of types of protein powder options on the market these days that are lactose-free. However, they are not all created equal.
When choosing a protein powder always check the ingredients list to avoid any artificial flavors or artificial ingredients. You will also want to pay attention to the manufacturing of the product and verify if it was produced in a facility that processes milk, in order to avoid cross-contamination. This will usually be listed on the label of the product.
It is also important to note that certain plant protein sources can be allergenic for certain people, more particularly pea protein and soy. If you notice you react to these opt for a protein powder without these ingredients as many will have a blend of proteins.
We always recommend choosing products that have been evaluated by a third party in order to confirm purity, potency, and quality. Look for products with certification labels from organizations such as NSF International, Informed-Choice, or USP whenever possible.
Best Lactose-Free Protein Powders at Vitasave (2022)
Bone broth protein powder is a fairly new non-dairy protein that is still based on animal products but does not contain any milk proteins or sugars. If you are not familiar with the health benefits of bone broth, you can read more about it here. Bone broth protein powder can provide the health benefits of bone broth in a convenient powder form that is nourishing, delicious, convenient to use, and easy to digest. Bone Broth Collagen Protein is free from common allergens, making it an ideal protein source for those who are sensitive to dairy, grains, eggs, nuts, and legumes.
Iron vegan combines organic sprouted whole grain brown rice, raw organic sprouted quinoa, amaranth, millet and pumpkin seed with organic flavours and sweeteners that help to give Sprouted Protein its remarkable taste.
Each of these organic sprouts is germinated at room temperature, allowing them to retain nutrients that would otherwise be compromised during cooking. Delivering 17 grams of protein, it provides a complete amino acid profile. Iron Vegan Athlete's Gainer is the next step to boosting muscle mass with extra calories, carbohdyrates, and protein all in one.
This is more than just vanilla flavor protein powder: Vanilla Collagen Protein contains amino acids to support healthy skin, bones and joints, plus MCT oil for sustained energy. It contains essential amino acids often missing in a modern diet and a high protein content sourced from pasture-raised cows, without added hormones.
Several studies have found that taking hydrolyzed collagen decreases joint pain after exercise and increases the density of cartilage, making joints more flexible. Collagen is also a great hack for endurance athletes, particularly if the preferred exercise is tough on joints.
This wholesome protein balances the good with the even-better. It’s crafted with pure plant proteins making it a completely lactose-free protein powder, providing a balanced amino acid profile, functional mushrooms, herbal adaptogens, real unrefined cacao, and no fillers whatsoever.
Four Sigmatic delivers 18g of pure plant proteins, 7 functional mushrooms and adaptogens, unrefined cacao, and not a single grain, gum, or gram of stevia. This is a deliciously nourishing, filler-free foundation for your day.
A classic favorite, Vega Sport Protein provides 30 grams of vegan protein and 5 grams of BCAAs to help you build and repair your muscles post-workout as well as tart cherry to support recovery. Vega Sport® Protein rises to the challenge of even your toughest workouts. With NSF certification, Vega is certified for sports and guaranteed to be free of banned substances. It is also keto-friendly with only 5 grams of carbohydrates and no added sugar.