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Just when you thought there was already an overwhelming number of choices for protein powder, you notice that some brands are labeled as “organic” and others are not, and you wonder if going with the organic option is really worth it.
No, it’s not worth paying more for organic protein powder because it does not offer nutritional benefits beyond conventional protein powder.
The main benefit is that it is free of artificial flavors or colors, which is better for those who are sensitive to these ingredients, but regular powders can avoid these too.
- The term “organic” extends to how an animal is raised and what it eats, so if cows’ quality of life is important to you, then it can be worth buying organic whey protein powder instead of conventional whey protein powder.
- Both organic and conventional farming use pesticides; all pesticides are tested for safety under the Food Quality Protection Act and organic pesticides are not inherently safer, so organic protein powder is not necessarily safer.
- Both organic and conventional protein powders can have the same amount of protein and provide the same benefits in terms of building and preserving lean muscle mass, so the choice comes down to personal preference and budget.
What Does It Mean When Protein Powder Is Organic?
When a protein powder is labeled as organic, it means that it is processed according to federal guidelines for soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives.
It should be certified by a regulatory body like the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will bear a seal showing USDA Organic.
Organic foods and supplements are often thought of as being healthier than products that are not organic, but this may not be the case (more on this later).
3 Differences Between Organic and Non-Organic Protein Powder
There are three main differences between organic and non-organic protein powders, in terms of how they are made:
1. Treatment Of Animals
When it comes to whey protein powder, for it to be labeled as organic, the dairy cattle producing the milk (the source of the whey) have to be raised in a way that follows federal guidelines.
This means that the cattle are given 100% organic feed, and raised in a way that allows them to graze on organic pasture. It also means that they are not given hormones or antibiotics.
With non-organic dairy, the feed that they use is not organic, and often the cattle are confined to concentrated feedlots where they have no freedom of movement and cannot graze at all, getting all of their food from a trough. This is not a good quality of life for the cow.
These types of operations often give antibiotics very liberally because sicknesses pass so easily among the animals in crowded, unsanitary conditions, and these antibiotics lead to higher rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
However, keep in mind that if a cow does need to be given antibiotics, the milk is disposed of for a prescribed period of time to ensure there will be no antibiotics in the milk or in whey made from that milk.
Key takeaway: If the quality of life for cattle is important to you, then it can be worth paying more for organic whey protein powder.
- Related Article: Grass-Fed Whey Protein vs. Regular (What To Know Before Buying)
2. Source Of Ingredients
For plant-based protein powders, the plants (such as rice, hemp, pea, or soy) have to be grown on soil that has no synthetic fertilizers or non-approved pesticides, but there are still many organic pesticides that are allowed.
Non-organic plant-based protein powders can use plants that were grown using more conventional methods, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures that ALL pesticides (organic or conventional) meet stringent safety standards of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA).
However, it’s worth noting that all protein powders (non-organic and organic) are considered dietary supplements and not foods, so they are not regulated by the US Food & Drug Administration (US FDA).
Key takeaway: Organic pesticides are not necessarily safer than conventional pesticides, and not all conventional farmers use synthetic pesticides, so organic protein powder is not inherently safer than non-organic protein powder.
- Related Article: How To Know If Whey Protein Is Safe If It’s Not FDA Approved
3. Additional Ingredients
Products that are certified organic cannot have artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and all additional ingredients must be organic.
But, there are many brands of non-organic protein powder that do not contain artificial flavors or colors. My favorite is Transparent Labs’ 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein (click here to read our review).
Key takeaway: Organic protein powders will never contain artificial flavors or colors; you have to check labels to see if non-organic protein powders contain artificial flavors or colors (some do and some don’t).
- Related Article: 9 Best Unflavored Protein Powder (Per Nutrition Coach)
3 Benefits Of Organic Protein Powder
The benefits of organic protein powder versus non-organic protein powder are related to how the powders are made rather than differences in nutritional benefits because they both have the same nutritional profiles.
1. Animal Welfare
The animal raising practices required for organic certification mean that animals like cows are given more space than in a crowded feedlot, and they are free to graze on organic pasture lands rather than eating grain from a trough.
Buying organic whey protein powder indirectly supports organic dairy farmers who provide organic milk that is processed into organic whey protein powder.
2. Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic use is much lower for organic farm animals, like cattle, which can help with combatting increasing levels of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance refers to humans becoming more resistant to antibiotics because of antibiotics being present in the food that we’re eating. This makes antibiotics less effective than they should be.
There are also more and more strains of bacteria developing that are resistant to antibiotics because of the widespread use of antibiotics in animals and humans.
Buying organic whey protein powder indirectly supports efforts for lower administration of antibiotics to livestock.
3. Farming Practices
Organic farmers are far more likely than conventional farmers to rotate their crops to improve soil quality, which is much better for the environment than continuously growing the same crop year over year (monoculture).
Monoculture depletes nutrients from the soil and requires the use of more and more fertilizers.
Buying organic plant-based protein powder indirectly supports these farmers and farming practices.
4 Drawbacks of Organic Protein Powder
While there are certainly some big-picture benefits of organic protein powder (described above), there are also some serious drawbacks to consider.
While prices vary from brand to brand and retailer to retailer, organic protein powder costs more than conventional protein powder on average, the same way that organic produce in the grocery store costs more than conventional produce.
It will come down to your budget and personal priorities as to whether you choose to pay extra for organic protein powder.
Depending on the brand, you might be able to shop around and get an organic protein powder for less than a conventional protein powder.
To match them up for the same amount of protein per serving (28 grams), I would need 1.167 servings of the organic vegan protein powder, which makes the cost per serving $1.95.
The organic vegan protein powder still costs slightly less than the 100% grass-fed whey protein powder for the Transparent Labs brand but not by much.
Key takeaway: When comparing prices of protein powders, you need to look at not only the cost per serving but also the cost per gram of protein since not all protein powders provide the same number of grams of protein per serving.
- Related Articles: Whey Protein vs Plant Protein For Fat Loss: Which Is Best?
2. Limited Brands
Only certain brands have certified organic protein powders, so there isn’t much selection to choose from to find one that you like. This can be a major limiting factor when it comes to choosing an organic protein powder.
Key takeaway: You will have fewer brands to choose from when selecting organic protein powders, so you may need to turn your back on your favorite brands to find one.
3. Limited Flavors
Organic protein powders cannot use artificial flavors, so there aren’t as many “fun” flavors available as there are for non-organic brands.
In fact, many organic protein powders taste horrendous, so I highly recommend seeing if you can purchase a sample size before committing to a full tub.
If you don’t enjoy the taste of your protein powder then you’ll be less likely to take it, and less likely to get the benefits that you are looking for, whether that is fat loss, muscle gain, or improved performance (or all three).
Key takeaway: You will be limited to “natural” flavors for organic protein powders, like vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, and some berry flavors.
While organic farming practices can be considered better for the environment in some ways, they can also be worse for the environment on a global scale. This is because the yield (output) of organic crops tends to be lower than conventional farming.
This means that even more land would need to be cleared for organic agriculture to produce the same amount of food that society is growing today.
Clear-cutting land for agricultural purposes to feed the world’s population is a major cause of deforestation that destroys animal habitats, increases greenhouse gas emissions, disrupts water cycles, and results in increased erosion and flooding.
So, needing to use more land for organic farming compared to conventional farming is actually a way that organic farming is worse for the environment, not better.
Key takeaway: When viewed on a global level, organic farming is not necessarily better for the environment than conventional farming, based on the current output of organic farms.
Organic Protein Powder vs. Non-Organic Protein Powder: Which Is Better?
Note: For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on “better” in terms of nutritional profile and ability to provide results for desired body composition and/or performance.
There are currently no scientific studies that show an advantage of organic protein powder over non-organic protein powder in terms of benefits for fat loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance when matched for leucine content (an amino acid linked to muscle growth).
In fact, this study pointed out that organic protein powders they sampled contained over two times the heavy metals content of non-organic protein powder supplements.
High doses of heavy metals can lead to disorders of the nervous system, a compromised immune system, and gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction.
Key takeaway: Both organic and non-organic protein powders are good choices to support your performance, aesthetic, and health goals. The “better” choice comes down to your personal preferences, values, and priorities.
Differences Between Non-Dairy & Dairy Organic Protein Powder
The key difference between non-dairy and dairy organic protein powders is that dairy protein powders have guidelines that extend to how the cattle producing the dairy are treated and what they are fed, whereas non-dairy protein powder guidelines focus on how the plants are grown.
Similarly, organic egg white protein powder would have guidelines that apply to the chickens producing the eggs.
So, in terms of being organic, the differences are within the guidelines of how they are grown and manufactured. But in terms of nutritional profiles, there will be other differences because non-dairy protein powders will have a higher carb content than dairy protein powders.
If you’re on a low-carb diet to lose weight then you’d be better off going with an organic dairy-based protein powder that is lower in carbs, if possible.
If you have a dairy sensitivity, then an organic non-dairy protein powder is the best option for you and the additional carbs can be accounted for in your total daily intake.
Tips For Choosing An Organic Protein Powder
Our tips for choosing an organic protein powder are similar to our tips for choosing any type of protein powder. The only difference is starting with a Certified Organic label.
- Choose a product with a Certified Organic label, and not just the word “organic” on the packaging (since protein powder is an unregulated dietary supplement, they could be using the term “organic” without actually meeting the requirements).
- Look for third-party certification, such as Informed Choice, or NSF for Sport, to ensure that the product has been third-party lab tested to contain only the ingredients on the label, in the amounts shown on the label.
Products that are certified third-party tested are more likely to contain exactly what
they’re supposed to, rather than cheap fillers or harmful additives.
Here are the certifications to look for on your protein powder:
- Check the protein content per serving: for reference, an “excellent” protein powder has more than 85% protein per serving; a “great” protein powder has 75-85% protein per serving, and a “reasonable” protein powder has 65-74% protein per serving.
- Check for additional ingredients in the ingredient list to avoid unnecessary additives, especially if you have sensitivities. An organic protein powder should not have any artificial colors or flavors, so the only sweeteners should be stevia or monk fruit.
Pick the sweeteners that you like the best and that work for you, or opt for an unflavored/unsweetened option.
- Start with a sample size before you commit to a large tub or package. This allows you to try out various flavors and brands to see what you like best before you invest in a larger format. You don’t want protein powder sitting around unused because it’s a waste of money, and it isn’t going to help you achieve your goals.
Who Should Use Organic Protein Powder
Individuals who struggle to meet their protein targets from whole food sources are good candidates for supplementing with protein powder in general. Those who care about the quality of life of chicken or cattle involved in the production of organic egg white or whey protein powders should use organic protein powders.
Beyond animal welfare considerations, there is currently no compelling scientific evidence that suggests you should choose organic protein powder over conventional protein powders.
As I’ve described, organic protein powders are not necessarily safer or better for the environment than conventional protein powders, and they do not have a different nutritional profile than regular protein powders.
Individuals should feel free to make their own decisions about whether organic protein powders are better for them.
Organic Protein Powder: My Recommendations
If you’ve decided that organic protein powder is best for you, my top picks are:
Transparent Labs Organic Vegan Rice & Pea Protein French Vanilla – Best Plant-Based Organic Protein Powder
- USDA Organic Certified
- Third-party lab certified, with Certificates of Analysis available for each lot number
- 74% protein per serving (“reasonable”)
- Naturally flavored and sweetened with organic stevia
Garden of Life Sport Certified Grass Fed Whey Isolate Protein Powder Plus Probiotics – Best Organic Whey Protein Powder
- USDA Organic Certified
- Truly Grass-Fed Certified
- Certified Gluten-Free
- NSF for Sport Certified
- Informed Choice Certified
- Non-GMO Project Verified
- 80% protein per serving (“great”)
- Naturally flavored and sweetened with organic erythritol* and organic stevia (*not suitable if you are sensitive to sugar alcohols)
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Taking Organic Protein Powder Good For You?
Yes, taking organic protein powder can be good for you if you struggle to meet your protein targets from whole food sources of protein. It is good for you in the same way that conventional protein powder is good for you, and organic protein powder is not better for you than conventional protein powder.
When Should I Drink Organic Protein Powder?
Organic protein powder is a great choice at breakfast to get more protein in the morning, as part of pre- and post-workout snacks, and can be added to any meal or snack to boost protein intake.
Does Organic Protein Powder Help You Lose Weight?
Yes, organic protein powder can help you lose weight by providing protein for satiety and if it helps you achieve an overall caloric deficit. However, organic protein powder by itself does not help with weight loss without a calorie deficit and it is not better for losing weight than conventional protein powder.
Does Organic Protein Powder Build Muscle?
Yes, organic protein powder can help with building muscle if it helps you to meet your overall daily protein target and is paired with challenging resistance training. Organic protein powder by itself does not build muscle, and organic protein powder is not better for building muscle than conventional protein powder.
Is Organic Protein Powder Better For Pregnancy?
Organic protein powder may or may not be better for pregnant individuals than conventional protein powder, depending on other ingredients in the powder. Some organic protein powders were found to have more heavy metal contamination than non-organic protein powders, making them less safe for pregnancy.
Mie, A., Andersen, H.R., Gunnarsson, S. et al. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environ Health 16, 111 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4
Columbus, D. A., Fiorotto, M. L., & Davis, T. A. (2015). Leucine is a major regulator of muscle protein synthesis in neonates. Amino acids, 47(2), 259–270. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-014-1866-0
Bandara, S. B., Towle, K. M., & Monnot, A. D. (2020). A human health risk assessment of heavy metal ingestion among consumers of protein powder supplements. Toxicology Reports, 7, 1255-1262. ISSN 2214-7500. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxrep.2020.08.001.
Balali-Mood, M., Naseri, K., Tahergorabi, Z., Khazdair, M. R., & Sadeghi, M. (2021). Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 12, 643972. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.643972
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
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