Do You Know What’s In Your Protein Powder or Bars?

In a word, garbage. Garbage in three sneaky forms:

Carrageenan. It causes inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and arteriosclerosis. Carrageenan is so effective at causing inflammation that it's used to test anti-inflammatory drugs.

Acesulfame Potassium. It’s an artificial sweetener that has produced lung, breast and organ tumors in rats, as well as forms of leukemia and chronic respiratory disease. Humans who have consumed acesulfame potassium over the long term may experience headaches, mental confusion, nausea, depression and damaging effects on the liver and kidneys.

Potassium Bicarbonate. This is a salt not ordinarily used for human consumption and the key ingredient in fire extinguishers and in farming fungicides (I’m not making this up). If consumed in excess, it too can cause abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. If more potassium bicarbonate is consumed than the kidneys can eliminate, the hands or feet can become numb or tingly, muscles can become weak or the body can experience temporary paralysis.

So first and foremost, you can see the need to become a conscientious label-reader. This stuff is in way too much of our food supply today. What can we do about it? It boils down to more “from scratch” cooking and baking. Translation: more time in the kitchen.

Believing that this extra kitchen time is well worth it, let’s look at what we can DO about the above question. How about we make our own protein powder and bars from real food? I found a recipe created by two dieticians, Serena and Deanna (find them on for simple homemade protein powder, using a surprise budget-friendly protein source and a natural thickener.

They created this recipe in 2014 and in three years it’s received rave reviews from hundreds of folks. Try this recipe and see what you think of a protein powder that doesn’t hide behind garbage:

BEST PROTEIN POWDER (yield: 10 servings)

3 cups instant nonfat dry milk, divided

1 cup old fashioned or instant oats

1 cup almonds

Sweetener of your choice

  1. Place 1 cup instant dry milk, 1 cup oats, 1 cup almonds in blender. Pulse until smooth.

  2. Place remaining instant dry milk in blender and pulse just a few times until blended.

  3. Place in container and cover tightly. Keep at a cool room temperature if you use within 2 weeks - if storing longer store in the refrigerator so the nuts don't go rancid.

  4. To use, scoop 1/2 cup into 1/2-1 cup liquid in a blender; if possible let set 5-10 minutes for oats to plump. Add additional fruits, flavorings, yogurt or milks of your choice. Vanilla or almond extract is especially delicious.

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Serena and Deanna also shared 3 very nice ways to use their protein powder. Just combine 1 scoop (use a ½ cup scoop) with these ingredients to get 3 tasty, energy-boosting drinks that can refuel you after a workout or substitute for a meal if you’re on a weight-loss plan.

Berry Berry Smoothie: 1 scoop Homemade Protein Power + 1/2 cup plain (or flavored) Greek yogurt + 1 cup milk + 1 cup berries = 31 g protein

Extra Creamy Chocolate Smoothie: 1 scoop Homemade Protein Power + 1 cup milk + 1/4 avocado +1 tablespoon cocoa powder = 18 g protein

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie: 1 scoop Homemade Protein Power + 1 cup milk + 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice + 1/4 cup canned (or leftover cooked) sweet potatoes = 17 g protein

Now with a garbage-free version of protein powder in your pantry, you’re ready to delve into making your own protein bars.

Here’s a recipe for a no-bake bar that I found on another inspiring site, Whole New Mom (, that I adjusted by adding some homemade protein powder and pure raw honey instead of stevia. We really like this. The only problem with these bars is that they don't travel well in warm weather. So take a cooler bag along with you if you plan to eat them on the road during the warmer seasons.

One warm weather tip for these bars, however, is to top them with cocoa butter instead of coconut oil; this will make them more stable.

And by the way, these are good even without the chocolate or carob topping.


2 cups nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower, pumpkin, or macadamia. Mixing several kinds is fine too. Soaking nuts is recommended.)

1/8 cup flax meal (flax seeds ground in a blender or spice grinder)

3/8 to ½ cup homemade protein powder

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup seed or nut butter

3/8 teaspoon salt (Real Salt® is a great brand)

1/2 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons pure raw honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1 cup chocolate or carob chips

1 teaspoon butter

  1. Place nuts or seeds, flax meal, coconut, seed or nut butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

  2. Process until the nuts or seeds are ground into a coarse meal

  3. Melt coconut oil over low heat. If the temperature of your home is around 76 degrees, you can skip this step and add the oil directly to the food processor as it will be soft enough to process easily.

  4. Add coconut oil, sweeteners and vanilla to processor bowl and process until well combined to form a thick, yet crunchy paste.

  5. Press the mixture into an 8x8 square pan (you can be quite flexible here. A 9x9 will work just fine. A larger pan will produce thin bars, while a smaller pan will yield thicker ones.)

  6. Place in refrigerator to chill.

  7. While bars are chilling, prepare chocolate/carob topping.

  8. Top bars with the topping.

  9. Place back in refrigerator to chill (if you can wait that long :-)!)

  10. Cut into squares and serve.

  11. Store in refrigerator

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I’ll conclude with one more recipe, and my encouragement to give the homemade protein options a sincere try. Health-wise, it’s just smart to know what’s in your protein powder and bar!


1 cup pitted Medjool dates

½ cup almonds

½ cup walnuts

¾ cup homemade protein powder

¼ cup cacao powder (NOT cocoa powder)

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

2 tablespoons pure fruit juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

  1. Place dates in food processor and process until pea-like consistency is reached.

  2. Add in nuts and continue processing until dates and nuts are finely ground.

  3. Add in protein powder, cacao powder, salt, peppermint extract and fruit juice and process until a well-combined sticky ball is formed.

  4. Take a 9 x 9 inch baking dish and line with plastic wrap.

  5. Place bar mixture into dish and flatten, making sure the top is even.

  6. Place in freezer for at least 15 minutes.

  7. Remove from freezer and lift plastic wrap out of dish.

  8. Cut into 12 bars.

  9. Store in fridge or freezer.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author!

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