Are protein shakes safe while pregnant?


Due to foetuses' vigorous development, pregnant women are encouraged to consume large amounts of protein. In an attempt to eat enough protein, some pregnant women drink protein shakes. While these drinks are beneficial, the type of protein consumed should be considered to ensure safe use of these products.

Protein During Pregnancy

During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, a woman should be consuming roughly 70 grams of protein each day. Protein is an essential building block for the developing foetus. According to Dr. Robert Bradley, author and founder of the "Bradley Method of Childbirth," healthy levels of protein aid in keeping a pregnant woman at low risk for complications during her pregnancy, thus decreasing the risk of complications during delivery.

Whey Protein

Whey Protein made from cow's milk. It is a byproduct of cheese and is used in infant formula, ice cream, tinned soup, bread and milk shake powders. It is high in amino acids, which are the building blocks of body tissues. There are no known safety issues associated with the consumption of whey protein powder, according to Target Woman.

Soy Protein

According to an article published in the Journal of Perinatal Education by Kristen Montgomery, PhD, RN and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of South Carolina, soy protein "is often used to replace animal proteins in an individual's diet. The soybean is a legume that contains no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat." While the benefits of soy are well established, certain recent studies have indicated possible concerns with regard to fetal development. Specifically, soy consumption may be linked to adverse reproductive affects in female foetuses and possible developmental differences in children. The overall process of making soy protein powder, otherwise known as soy protein isolate (SPI), is also questionable. According to an article by Sally Fallon and nutritionist Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., members of the National Board of Nutritional Scientists, SPI is produced in factories "where a slurry of soya beans is first mixed with an alkaline solution to remove fibre, then precipitated and separated using an acid wash and, finally, neutralised in an alkaline solution. Acid washing in aluminium tanks leaches high levels of aluminium into the final product. The resultant curds are spray-dried at high temperatures to produce a high-protein powder."

Artificial Sweeteners

Another factor to consider when deciding whether to consume protein shakes during pregnancy is the type of sweetener used. While the FDA has approved chemical sweeteners for use while pregnant and lactating, some recent studies have called their safety into question. In a Japanese study by Y.F. Sasaki, published in 2002, it was found that sucralose caused DNA damage in the intestine of mice. Furthermore, an Italian study published in 1996 in the European Journal of Oncology discovered a link between aspartame and brain tumours. Fortunately, there are numerous protein shakes available that use natural sweeteners such as fructose, lactose or stevia. These sweeteners are naturally derived and have not been chemically altered.

Other Sources of Protein

If desiring to avoid protein shakes due to their potential risks, the following foods offer excellent sources of protein during pregnancy. Meats, including certain fish, can be consumed regularly. Eggs, legumes and dairy are all high in protein and can be obtained in organic forms to ensure that no harmful chemicals are consumed. Quinoa, a South American grain is an excellent source of both iron and protein, and can be purchased in bulk at most health food stores.