Buying Whey Protein Isolate? Consider This Label Trick…

Whey Protein Isolate

When it comes to whey protein isolates, these two topped last year’s Protein Wars. But they also passed another test we learned about… come see an isolate-based supplement that didn’t.

In our last article, we put together a quick whey protein buyer’s guide, discussing what type of whey protein you should look for (if at all!), depending on your lactose sensitivity.

For those who are quite lactose intolerant but not “devastatingly” lactose intolerant, it’s suggested that you get a pure whey protein isolate powder, or avoid the dairy-based powders altogether.

But how do you find a quality whey protein isolate?

A few incredible pure whey protein isolate supplements are Core Nutritionals ISO, Raw Nutrition CBum Itholate, and Kaged Whey Protein Isolate.

But let’s say you want to find your own deals out there, or want some shopping suggestions in general. What next?

The whey isolate buying tips most of us know

Many of our readers are familiar with the following tips:

  • Look at the macronutrients

    NutraBio Whey Protein Isolate

    Below you will see a very clean label. We like that NutraBio 3rd-party lab tests!

    In general, whey protein isolate proteins are very low-carb, very low-fat. After all, they’ve mostly been filtered out!

    Companies may add some fats or carbs back in for flavoring, thickening, or creamering. A couple carbs or a couple grams of fat doesn’t bother us, but you want to make sure you’re not getting a tub that’s half filler!

    Note that in chocolate-based powders, cocoa almost always adds at least a carb, oftentimes two. Don’t sweat it!

  • Percent protein by weight

    Related to the above, it’s always a good idea to divide the grams of protein on the label (say 25g) by the grams in each scoop (say 29g).

    If you’re going for pure protein with as little filler as possible, you’ll want the resulting number to be above .85, or 85% protein by weight.

    You’ll see that vanilla and some fruity flavors require less flavoring to make it work, while richer chocolates and peanut butter style flavors require more mass, thus lowering our percent protein by weight.

  • The gums, additives, and thickeners

    MAN Sports ISO Protein

    This ISO-Protein sprinkle donut tastes incredibly good in coffee! Doesn’t mix in perfectly, but once you get it stirred in, it’s great.

    We can’t tell you what you want, but note that some products have more thickeners than others. This could be good if you don’t want as thin of an isolate protein… but it’s a negative if you’re going for ultra-pure protein.

    Just start to recognize what thickeners, gums, and sweeteners you like over time and steer in that direction.

    At PricePlow we’re pretty flexible with this, and are more interested in the flavor systems themselves. We are okay with sucralose, but stevia-sweetened proteins are finally to the point where they’re definitely good enough that a true “naturalist” has nothing to fear with newer products out there!

But now, for the reason you’re here: the trick that you can use to spot a questionable whey isolate:

Look at the cholesterol content!!!

Nobody ever talks about cholesterol when it comes to protein powders — especially not with isolates. After all, unless we’re rockin the bacon-flavored protein, we shouldn’t expect to see much — it’s mostly supposed to be filtered (or isolated) out… right?!

Let’s take a look at NutraBio’s and MAN Sports’:

Between these two labels, we can see NutraBio claiming <5mg Cholesterol, and MAN Sports claiming 0g cholesterol!

Our information is only as strong as our trust

Disclaimer: When analyzing labels, unless there are third party lab tests showing the data we’re interested in, we have to take the brand’s word for it. Many brands may not test for something such as cholesterol in each batch.

There is a chance that the data has been provided by the raw material supplier, and added with the data from the flavoring/thickening agents.

So while there may still be inaccuracies, when the labels are truthful, there is a lot that can be hidden.

So it looks like MAN Sports and NutraBio have minimal amounts of cholesterol, like a good isolate should. Sniff test passes on all accounts.

A general rule of thumb

So when buying isolate protein, take a look at that cholesterol number.

If the brand is using a high-quality quality protein source (and is labeling honestly) it should be:

  • under 80mg for a concentrate,
  • under 20mg for an isolate, and
  • under 10mg for what we’d consider a “premium” isolate.

That’s of course a general rule of thumb (for roughly 22-25g protein scoop), but it’s one that seems to work more often than not.

When things get a bit tricky…

However, there are some products out there that occasionally emphasize the use of the word “ISOLATE” on their labels.

Sometimes they are labeled in such a way that you’d think it was completely made of whey protein isolate. Other times, such as the example shown below, the marketing/labeling makes no such claims, but the wording is so tricky that several sites — including our own until we did this research — have it categorized with the pure isolates!

Pure Whey Protein Isolate or Not

What gives with all that cholesterol?!?!

2g of fat and 2g of carbohydrates are “low-fat” and “low-carb” enough for us. Of course the NutraBio and MAN Sports products above are lower, but 2g isn’t exactly striking.

However, there are two red flags here:

  1. The first is 70mg cholesterol — nearly 15x the amount of NutraBio’s pure isolate!

    What gives? Shouldn’t that have been filtered out?!

  2. Well, the hint is in the second red flag. Can you spot it yet?

If not, that’s subject for the next article in this series, but the question someone will need to answer is, “What are WHEY PEPTIDES?” Turns out, nobody really knows, as we can’t find a legal definition for it, but it’s probably not pure whey isolate….

Stay tuned, sign up for our alerts and newsletter below, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. More is on the way.

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Disclosure: PricePlow relies on pricing from stores with which we have a business relationship. We work hard to keep pricing current, but you may find a better offer.

Posts are sponsored in part by the retailers and/or brands listed on this page.

This article was inspired by a comment from Chistianmelon in the PricePlow forums. All credit goes to Christian for this one! Join our forums by commenting below.

About the Author: Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto is a research scientist and water sports athlete who founded PricePlow. He is an n=1 diet experimenter with extensive experience in supplementation and dietary modification, whose personal expertise stems from several experiments done on himself while sharing lab tests.

Mike's goal is to bridge the gap between nutritional research scientists and non-academics who seek to better their health in a system that has catastrophically failed the public.

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