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How to read an ingredients label

whey protein ingredients

 

I think it’s safe to say people know how to read a nutritional label these days (Kcals, Carbs, Fat, Protein etc) as generally these are colour coded to guide you.

That said, did you know there is a ‘science’ behind reading ingredients contents on labels?

Below are my 4 top tips to help you decode some of the false advertising and give you the understanding you need to know to help choose the correct product for you.

Note: this has been tailored to whey protein labels, but applies to pretty much all food products!

Tip 1 - Ingredients are listed in inclusion order

The first listed ingredient is always the one with the highest inclusion %. So what you’re looking for here (and this is A MUST) is for Whey Protein to be listed first, if it’s not – run for the hills!

An important note here is to be careful of blends. As brands know the above is true, they have a cunning trick and will use “Protein Blends” as the main ingredient. They’ll market the product as “includes Whey Protein Isolate” whereas in actual fact it’ll be a blend of Whey Concentrate & Whey Isolate. Both will be detailed on the list, but as it’s a blend they don’t have to tell you the % of each…very clever or very cheeky?! The latter if you as me!

Below are the ingredients of what is know as the best selling whey on the market. It has references to “Whey Protein Isolates” all over the package, but no reference to Whey Concentrates (which some people can’t stomach so avoid) – unless you look at the ingredients:

 whey protein ingredients

 

We know that pure Whey Isolates = 90% protein content. This brand has 78% protein content. We know that around 7-8% is for stabilisers, mixers and flavouring, so you’re getting around 5% less protein due to the inclusion of Concentrate here!

Recommendation – if you want an Isolate, look for a product with just pure Isolate as an ingredient and not a blend.

Tip 2 – When comparing brands, compare the nutritional content of 100g vs 100g and NOT serving sizes

This is pretty basic maths but VERY easy to get confused. You have 2 brands of whey in either hand, both brands say 20g of protein per serving so you go with the cheapest. Easy right? Not quite!

Brands with a lower protein or BCAA % will just recommend a larger serving size to compensate. Take a look at the below table – all from very popular brands on the market:

 

Bag size (g)

Total Cost

Protein %

Protein per serving

Serving Size (g)

Cost per 20g protein serving

Servings per bag

Brand 1

900

£29.99

75%

20g

27

£0.80

33

Brand 2

900

£35.00

90%

20g

24

£0.74

38

Brand 3

900

£25.00

60%

20g

33

£0.92

27

 

So you’d be excused for just going for the cheapest, but actually in the long term, the most expensive of the 3 per bag (brand 2) is cheaper per serving.

Recommendation – no need to take your calculator with you everywhere, just opt for a product with at least an 80% protein content & check all ingredients, the fewer the ingredients the better.

 

Tip 3 – Don’t waste your time & money on Diet Whey or Lean Whey

I could rant for hours on this but I won’t. All whey is from the same source. Fact. There aren’t cows on treadmills that produce lean & diet whey or cows that hit the gym to give you ‘muscle whey’.

I don’t believe in adding the tinniest green tea extract to a whey protein and calling it lean or diet whey & charging 50% extra. Science shows that you need at least 6-8 cups of green tea to help increase metabolism – not a tiny extract!

I Googled “Diet Whey” and a very well know brand that dominates the market pops up first, here is their ingredients list (no surprises it’s a blend & sorry it's so small!):

whey protein ingredients

What makes this diet? Maybe the magical fat reducing cocoa (whatever that is?!) and the amazing green-tea? It’s not even that low in carbs and sugar, a true Isolate or HydroIsolate have pretty much 0g of both.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a whey with the lowest fat, carbs and therefore calories – opt for a 100% Whey HydroIsoate or Isolate.

These types of whey are the same source but are filtered at low temperatures to remove pretty much all fat and sugar (lactase). It’s going to be the same for you/better than “fat reducing cocoa” and extracts of green-tea and it’ll save you money!

 

Tip 4 – Always make sure you’re looking at the correct nutritional information for the flavour you are buying

Another sneaky trick of brands is to give you the macros of the unflavoured version only! So no surprises it’s going to be lower in kcals and higher in protein. Great if you want the unflavoured version but very few people do.

I’d only buy a brand where I know the exact macros of the one I’m buying. Take a large protein brand in the UK and their best selling Whey Isolate.

Here’s the only information I could find on their site:

whey protein ingredients 

Now considering they have 22 flavours they’re just being lazy and deceptive by not telling you the nutritional information for your favourite chocolate flavour.

Why aren’t they telling you? A little research shows that there is a variance of around 7-9% for the flavoured version. So expect the Kcals, fat & carbs to increase and protein to decrease. by 7-9%.

False advertising? I think so!

Recommendation: If you are looking at macros and wanting to buy the highest protein % or lowest Kcals, fat and carbs – make sure you compare apples with apples. Usually a Google image result of the flavour helps. OR just buy from a brand that’s not trying to deceive you!

 

 

Hopefully you’ll now be armed with the correct information to pick the relevant product for you and now will be able decode the mystical ingredients that whey brands use. Also, hopefully the brands will read this and FINALLY give us the macros for the flavoured versions on their sites!