If you’re lactose intolerant, whey protein powder will give you stomach cramps, gas, bloating, and maybe even acne, because you can’t digest it right. The best protein powder for lactose intolerant people is dairy-free, like the protein powders we’ve listed here. Most dairy foods (made with cow’s milk) contain lots of the lactose that your body can’t digest. Fortunately there are plenty of great sources of protein that are 100% lactose-free, such as peas, eggs, and hemp. (If you don’t have time to read the detailed info below, we’ll spoil the conclusion for you: Our absolute favorite is this pea protein.)
The best all-natural, lactose-free protein powders are the following:
|Pure Therapeutics Daily Vegan Protein Vanilla Flavor||Yes||Yes||No!|
|Paleo Protein Egg White Powder||No||No||No!|
|Pea Protein Isolate - Vegan, Non-GMO, Lactose, Soy and Gluten Free||Yes||Yes||No!|
|Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 50 Protein Supplement||Yes||Yes||No!|
Why does whey protein trigger my lactose intolerance?
When you are lactose intolerant, you lack a digestive enzyme called “lactase.” Digestive enzymes are natural chemicals that your body creates and uses to digest different foods. Your body needs the lactase enzyme so that you can fully digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar contained in cow’s milk and in products made from cow’s milk, including whey protein powder.
When a lactose-intolerant person drinks a whey protein shake, the lactose in the whey can’t be digested properly because the person’s small intestine can’t make enough of the lactase enzyme needed to process the lactose properly. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerance is actually not an allergic reaction to dairy. Without the lactase enzyme to break it down into something digestible, the lactose goes directly into your colon. Your colon can handle this undigested lactose, but it uses bacteria to break down the lactose. A side effect of these colon bacteria is fermentation – which causes extreme release of gases. This is the source of the bloating, pain, and flatulence that you’re probably familiar with at this point!
Obviously the best way to avoid lactose intolerance symptoms from protein shakes is to only use lactose-free protein powder! Easy, right?
Why am I lactose-intolerant?
So why can’t your body produce the lactase needed to digest lactose properly? Lots of other people don’t have any problem but for some reason you do, it doesn’t make sense! While there are several reasons for lactose intolerance, it turns out that it’s mostly genetic. Thousands of years ago, everyone was lactose intolerant, all around the world. However, between 10,000 and 4000 years ago, ethnic groups which traditionally kept cattle developed the ability to tolerate lactose. This was advantageous for them, since it meant they could drink milk, which was a valuable nutrient source. For this reason, people from Northwestern Europe and certain parts of Eastern Africa are usually able to fully digest lactose. Unfortunately for other ethnic groups, the ability to tolerate lactose did not spread everywhere. If you are a member of an ethnic group from a region where dairy is not a traditional food source, you will probably be lactose intolerant. For example, 47% of Mexican Americans are lactose intolerant, according to one study. Sadly, there is no actual cure for lactose intolerance, although replacing dairy products with products made with goat’s milk instead of cow milk is often a successful way to get around this problem if you are only mildly lactose intolerant, since goat milk contains slightly less lactose.
Lactose-free and plant-based, what’s not to like!
If you are legitimately lactose intolerant, and you still want to drink protein shakes (you should!), your only choice is to avoid whey and any other protein source that contains lactose. Basically, if it came from a cow, stay away! There are several good protein powders made from sources that are lactose-free. If you are vegan, or want a hypoallergenic option, you can try hemp protein or pea protein, both of which taste much better than they sound, we promise! Pea protein powder and hemp protein powder are both equally good, in fact, they’re like two peas in a pod… Ok, ok, no more jokes, we get it – protein powder is serious business right?!
Where’s the beef?
If you’re OK with animal products, you can try protein powder made from eggs, or even from beef, amazingly enough. Some people report feeling a stronger sense of vitality and robusticity from protein powder made with beef or eggs that they didn’t get from whey protein. This could be because of the powerful micronutrients present in egg yolks and red meat, including zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin K2 (side note: Vitamin K2 is an essential nutrient, which is virtually absent from the modern diet, even from natural, healthy diets. For more information, you could start at Chris Masterjohn’s excellent article about K2.)
Soy – good for lactose intolerance, not too great for anything else
Although soy-based protein powder doesn’t contain lactose and therefore you can use it if you are lactose intolerant, we usually recommend other protein sources first. Soy can have bad effects in the body, as it mimics the action of a major hormone, estrogen. This artificial change in hormones can cause weight gain, acne, or even breast cancer. These risks don’t seem worth it when there are other great protein powders available that won’t trigger lactose-intolerant symptoms.
Whatever protein source you choose, stay away from whey, which is chock-full of lactose. Whether you go with hemp, eggs, soy or anything else, we wish you the best of luck and we truly hope this article helped you find the best protein powder for your lactose-free life!