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Clean Protein Powder Guide

Written by Irina Webb

A morning smoothie enriched with collagen or protein powder seems like a good call, right?  It is easy, fast, and, most importantly, healthy!  Or so you would like to think.  As it turns out, however, there are a lot of factors that can contribute to making protein powders unsafe.  You want to make sure you have a clean protein powder with test reports to back up its safety.  Among other things, heavy metals in protein powders make them unclean and unsafe for you.  So, in this post, you will learn how to find heavy metal-safe protein and collagen powders.  Also, keep reading to discover the name of the company that produces the truly cleanest protein powder.

Clean Protein Powder Guide. A photo of a smoothie with safe levels of heavy metals in protein powders.

What is clean protein powder?

To begin with, when companies refer to their protein powders as “clean,” I believe they mean that they have no artificial flavors, sugar, sweeteners, preservatives, or dyes.  And it is great that their products do not contain all that stuff!  Nevertheless, the absence of these substances is not enough to make your powder clean. 

Indeed, you want the product you consume several times a day to be organic.  It means that the source material for your powder was organically grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or sewage water.  However, even being organic is not enough to qualify for a safe and healthy product. 

In fact, we are taking a step further in our search for the cleanest protein powder without heavy metals.  Stay with me and you will find out how to not poison yourself accidentally. 

Why are heavy metals in protein powders a matter of concern?

First and foremost, whatever comes from the earth tends to be contaminated with heavy metals.  Because of environmental pollution, heavy metals end up in the air, water, and soil.  Consequently, plants absorb those toxic substances.  Some of them, such as cacao plants, turmeric, mushrooms, and rice, absorb these toxicants more than others. 

As a result, making powders of these plants compounds toxicants.  For example, one teaspoon of kale powder equals an entire head of kale, which is a lot of nutrients and, unfortunately, contaminants.  Hence, it is important to consume clean protein powder without heavy metal contaminants.

In addition, the contaminants find their way into animal products, such as collagen.  This happens, obviously, because animals breathe, eat, and drink contaminated air, food, and water.  Generally speaking, collagen powders tend to be less contaminated with heavy metals than plant-based protein powders.

Moreover, processing equipment and storage containers may leach toxicants, too.

The most concerning heavy metals in protein powders are lead, cadmium, and arsenic.

Lead in protein powders

As you may know, scientists have established lead as a neurotoxin, which means that it impairs intellectual abilities and memory.  Additionally, it can cause irritability, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and a whole array of diseases.

Namely, lead is linked with high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, reduced fertility, and damage to the unborn baby.  Besides, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Cadmium in protein products

This is another contaminant that you do not want in your clean protein powder.  Though not as well known, it is actually in some respects more toxic than lead.  Thus, the IARC has classified it as “carcinogenic to humans.”  It may cause high blood pressure, preterm labor, and artery and kidney disease.  In addition, it may reduce mineral density in bones. 

Arsenic in supplements

As for arsenic, the US National Toxicology Program has classified it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”  Moreover, it may impact gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems, and cause diabetes and liver diseases. 

Are small amounts of heavy metals in protein powders safe?

In short, the answer to this question is no.  To clarify, unlike other contaminants, heavy metals are bioaccumulative, which means that every trace exposure adds up.  That is to say, heavy metals stay in human hard and soft tissues for decades.  And, importantly, there are no absolutely safe and effective detox methods for heavy metals.  Sadly, breastfeeding is one of the most effective methods to get rid of heavy metals.  (Even so, experts still consider breastfeeding much better for babies than formula!  So, please keep breastfeeding your babies.)

How can you find clean protein powder?

Well, the main way would be to contact the company and ask for 3rd party heavy metal test reports.  Basically, this is a test of a product sample that the company sends to an independent lab.  Or, the company may email you their Certificate of Analysis instead, which they get from their manufacturer.  The 3rd party test reports are better than Certificate of Analysis, but the latter is better than nothing.

As usual, I encourage you to contact companies and ask them questions.  The more we show our interest in the safety of their products, the sooner the changes will come.  I have seen it happen, especially in the baby wipes industry!  Besides, it is easy to learn how to read test reports.  You can do it, even if you do not like math.

California Proposition 65

To begin with, you compare the numbers in the report with some standard.  Thus, a great standard is the one set in accordance with California Proposition 65.  Currently, California knows 900 chemicals that may cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. 

The heavy metals in protein powders – arsenic, cadmium, and lead – have trigger levels set by the State of California.  In other words, if a product has higher than trigger levels of heavy metals, the company must put a CA Prop 65 warning on its product, unless it qualifies for exemptions.  If a product has lower than trigger levels of heavy metals, there is a “safe harbor,” i.e. no need for a Prop 65 warning.  The safe harbor levels are as follows:

ContaminantMicrograms per day
Lead15 (for cancer) 0.5 (for reproductive toxicity)

To clarify, to count as safe, the amounts of heavy metals in clean protein powder must not exceed these numbers.

True, California limits are strict.  Besides, with the environmental pollution, it is hard to find plant-based powders that do not exceed the trigger level for lead for reproductive toxicity. 

Also, companies may put a CA Prop 65 warning on their product preemptively.  Since heavy metal levels may vary from batch to batch, they put the warning just in case to avoid changing the packaging or even canceling the sale.  Therefore, neither the presence nor absence of the warning means the protein powder is unsafe or lead-safe respectively.

How to read test reports for heavy metals in protein powders

Generally, the levels of heavy metals are expressed either in parts per million (ppm) or in micrograms per gram (mcg/g) where 1 ppm equals 1 mcg/g.  Also, first check whether the amounts of heavy metals in the report are per serving or per gram. 

For example, say your test report shows that the lead amount per serving is 0.1 mcg.  Then, you compare this number with the safe harbor level for lead which is 0.5 mcg and conclude that 0.1 mcg per serving is safe enough. 

On the other hand, suppose your test report shows 0.155 ppm of lead, which is equal to 0.155 mcg/g.   To find out the amount of lead in a serving, you multiply this number by the serving size.  If the serving size is one teaspoon (5g), you multiply 0.155 by 5 and get 0.775 mcg.  And you see that this number exceeds the CA Prop 65 trigger level for reproductive toxicity.   

What is the cleanest organic protein powder?

The clean protein powder that I really like is the product by the Perfect Supplements company.  It is called Perfect Plant Protein.   

What I like about this company is that they post their 3rd party test reports on their website.  Hence, you can see them on the Lab Tests tab of the product page. 

Specifically, the levels of heavy metals in protein powders by Perfect Supplements are the lowest I have seen so far in 3rd party test reports.  Thus, the test report indicates that the heavy metal levels are as follows:

Mercury: <0.001 ppm

Lead: 0.018 ppm

Arsenic: 0.036 ppm

Cadmium: 0.077 ppm

According to the manufacturer, the daily intake of the powder is 1 scoop (27 g).  That means that you need to multiply 0.018 ppm of lead by 27g, which is 0.486 mcg, which is still under the California’s strictest trigger level.

Besides, the Perfect Supplements clean protein powder is organic, vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and free of any additives.  Also, it offers nine essential amino acids and a high level of magnesium.  Importantly, it has been tested for glyphosate as well and found to be free of it.  As you might know, organic certification does not always guarantee that a product is free of contamination by this carcinogenic herbicide.  

Another clean plant-based protein powder I found is made by ZEGO.  This company is very transparent, too.  They post 3rd party test reports on their website, too.

What is the cleanest collagen powder?

To begin with, collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals.  In the human body, it is found in the bones, muscles, skin, and tendons.  In other words, it holds the body together by providing strength and structure.  Hence, the decrease in collagen level contributes to skin aging, loss of tendon and ligament flexibility, muscle weakening, joint pain, and gastrointestinal problems (source).

When it comes to collagen supplements, the most common sources are bovine, chicken, beef, and ­fish.  Just as heavy metals in protein powders are a source of concern, so are they in collagen powders. 

Thus, in May 2020, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the Clean Label Project (CLP) released their test findings of 28 collagen products.  The findings revealed that some of the most popular collagen products contain measurable amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic.  Please read their report on collagen powders to find out how collagen is made and which brands have levels of heavy metals that exceed recommended levels. 

The good news is that the Perfect Supplements grass-fed collagen powder was also among the tested products and, just as the clean protein powder, it showed great results.  By the way, it is hard to find organic collagen powder due to the lack of supply of organic cows.

Perfect Supplements carries two types of collagen.  Specifically, the researchers included Perfect Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides. 

Clean Supplements by Perfect Supplements

In addition to the plant protein powder and hydrolyzed collagen peptides, Perfect Supplements carries many other supplements.  Not all products are below the strictest lead safe harbor level for reproductive toxicity, though.  While I applaud their transparency, especially when the supplement industry is not transparent, to begin with, I went through all their products and recommend only the cleanest supplement products for you.  Thus, I consider the levels of heavy metals in protein powders and other products safe for the following items:

Plant Protein Powder

Magnesium Citrate Powder

Organic Chicken Bone Broth

Magnesium Citrate Capsules

Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides

Pasture-Raised Desiccated Liver Powder

Pasture-Raised Type II Collagen Powder

Organic Coconut MCT Oil (the only oil I found that is packaged in a glass jar, which is so important for oil as plastic leaches toxins more readily when it comes in contact with fat)

Organic Spirulina

Organic Acai Powder

Organic Baobab Powder

Organic Acerola (Vitamin C Superfood)

Conclusion about clean protein powder

In conclusion, transparency is the key in your search for a safe product.  Thus, if a company says their products have no heavy metals or a CA Prop 65 warning without backing it up with test reports, their words do not mean much.  Therefore, it is better to use a tested product with not so ideal results than a product with positive claims but no test reports.

As for Perfect Supplements transparent products, they are available on their website. Please use the discount code IREAD10 to get 10% off.

For more healthy products including non-toxic anti-aging beauty routine products, check out my shop.  If you have questions about healthy living, book a consultation with me, and I will help you.  Also, you are welcome to join the Savvy Consumer Circle to go deeper with living a healthy life.

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10 thoughts on “Clean Protein Powder Guide”

  1. Thank you for this post’s information.

    I’d like to ask if the magnesium capsules from this company are cleared by you. I just went to Perfect Supplement’s site and the magnesium powder is on back order. I prefer the capsules as well if it has the same numbers as the powder.

    Be well,

    1. Hi, Jan, yes I cleared the magnesium capsules too. They are included in the list of Perfect products that I approved. I should have put them next to each other. Sorry about that. ~Irina

    1. Hi, Lauren: I did not look into pre-workout powders. However, you can always use my educational information to conduct your own research. As a customer, you have a full right to contact a company and ask them questions. The more of us do that, the safer product they start making. ~Irina

  2. Thank you so much for that helpful break down! I am always trying to dig deeper to see what could be hidden in foods and I had no idea about the heavy metals in these powder, which is very frustrating that this isn’t a bigger deal to many consumers. I have reached out to my favorite brands that I currently use to get their test results, at least two companies do mention 3rd party testing but not their results.
    I just wanted to say thank you for the knowledge and I will be sharing with my friends! Knowledge is power!

  3. I ordered the Magnesium capsules and I was wondering if you have a favorite D3 vitamin as well. I take magnesium and D3 together two hours before bed.

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