How to choose a Protein Powder after Bariatric Surgery?

How to choose a Protein Powder after Bariatric Surgery?

Author: Mariam Lakdawala, RD

Bariatric nutritionist and diabetic educator

My last blog emphasized on the importance of protein supplementation post weight loss/bariatric surgery. It is extremely important to meet the protein requirements (especially for vegetarians) to prevent or decrease the consequences of possible protein insufficiency after weight loss surgery.

In our practice we see that most patients a number of preconceived notions and mis-conceptions about protein supplements. A lot of patients feel that protein supplements are artificial and can be harmful, they may lead to weight gain or that they are just meant for body-builders…. the list just goes on! After any type of weight loss / bariatric surgery, food intake goes down considerably and it is usually not possible to meet the body’s daily protein requirement through food alone. Hence it becomes essential to add a protein supplement.

Now, the market is full of options for protein powders. Various brands and different types of protein powders and meal replacers are available today. It is enough to confuse anyone. The commonest query I get from my patients is, “Which Protein powder should I choose to meet my requirements?”.

This blog will enable you to understand the nutritional label on these protein supplements and help you to decide which one will be the best option for you.

Let us first understand classification of proteins:

  • Concentrates: Concentrate contains between 30% and 85% protein based on the degree of removal of non-protein part. It is cheaper and easier to find.
  • Isolates: Isolate contains up to 90% protein and very less non-protein part. It is best quality protein, but more expensive
  • Hydrolysates: These are partially digested proteins, which are digested faster than the intact proteins. It has a higher content of amino acid Leucine which is essential for “turning on” muscle building.

Next is to look out for measures used to state the digestibility of these proteins. Given below are the most widely accepted ones, which will be either printed on the label or can be obtained on demand. Every measure used will have its own pros and cons, hence best is to check for more than one measure before making the final decision.

  • Biological value: It determines how much of the digested protein stays in your body and is represented on a scale of 0-100. 100 being the highest bioavailability
  • Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS): This score ranges from 0-1.0, 1.0 being the most likely to meet human protein needs. 
  • Amino acid profile: A complete protein will contain all the essential amino acids (Essential amino acids are not produced by the body and have to be obtained from diet) required for the synthesis of important proteins in the body.

Knowing the type of protein is very important to match your diet preference and also to know which one will suit you the best.  

  • Whey proteinis one of the most commonly used protein obtained from milk. It contains all the essential amino acids and is easily digested. Whey concentrate retains lactose as it is comparatively less processed versus whey isolate which contains negligible amounts of lactose. It is rich in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) which promotes muscle growth.
  • Soy proteinis a plant based protein obtained from Soya bean and is the best choice of protein for vegans.
  • Casein Protein: Like whey it is also obtained from milk. However, it is digested and absorbed very slowly.
  • Egg protein: It is an eggcellent source of high quality protein. Egg protein powders are generally made from egg whites and not whole egg
  • Rice protein, which is 100 percent plant-based, is a good choice for vegetarians or for people who don’t consume dairy products. It’s also gluten-free. However, it is not a complete protein and is not ideal for muscle building
  • Pea proteinis highly digestible, hypo-allergenic and economical.
  • Hemp proteinis also 100 percent plant-based. It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, it is not a complete protein as it is low in amino acids lysine and Leucine.

While selecting the protein powder also check the sugar content, as high sugar content in your protein drink will aggravate the risk of dumping syndrome especially after a Roux-en y gastric bypass. Instead of sugar, you can add ginger, cinnamon, cloves or extracts like almond extract, coconut extract, vanilla extract, peppermint, etc for taste.

In short, protein powders provide high quality protein in a concentrated & convenient form. Hence, instead of running away from protein supplements, know how to read the nutritional label on protein supplements and make them your friends.

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