The Best Protein Powder Alternatives For Your Nutritious Morning Smoothie

You love to start your day with a nutritious (and delicious) protein smoothie. Typically, you throw a scoop of your favorite protein powder into the mix and call it a day. But you've been reading articles on what's really in protein powder, like heavy toxins and excess sweeteners, which just aren't good for you. Plus, they aren't easy on your wallet either. Thankfully, you can get protein from milk products, soy, nuts, and beans rather than buying it in the tub.

You might not realize it, but proteins are the building blocks of your body. According to Medline Plus, every cell in your body needs protein. The body makes some proteins, called "nonessential amino acids," but others (essential amino acids) must be eaten. That's why it's recommended that 10% to 35% of your diet contains proteins. Additionally, Healthline demonstrates that diets high in protein help you feel full longer, increase muscle mass, and reduce appetite.

Let us help you dissect the different protein powder alternatives to start your morning off with a protein-powered punch. You'll also learn about other benefits of these protein-rich foods.

Splash a little milk in your protein smoothie

If you want to keep your smoothie high in protein but steer clear of the additives in protein powders, various milks are a good bet. One cup of 1% cow's milk has 8 grams of protein, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It's also high in calcium at 305 milligrams. The Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research also states that cow's milk is nutrient-dense in vitamins D, B2, B12, and A, along with the minerals potassium and phosphorus. Additionally, milk and milk product consumption has been associated with a lower risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

One big downside of cow's milk is lactose, which many are intolerant to. This can lead to cramping, nausea, and gastrointestinal distress. You can keep your smoothie high in protein by substituting other non-dairy milk products. For example, soy milk, created by blending water and soybeans, is rich in vitamins, a good source of plant protein (7 grams per cup), and lower in calories than milk, per Healthline. However, to get a similar flavor, sugar is added, and the cost is higher than cow's milk.

Other plant-based dairy alternatives to try include oat milk, cowpea milk, almond milk, coconut milk, flax milk, and quinoa milk, states the Journal of Food Science and Technology. Each product has different ingredients and additives to watch for, but it can be a healthy alternative for your protein shake when you want to meet your macros.

Add a dollop of Greek yogurt or soft cheese

Greek yogurt is created when the whey is strained out of milk, according to Medical News Today. This makes a thick, creamy yogurt full of protein. In fact, the USDA noted a 170-gram container contains 17.3 grams of protein. Since Greek yogurt is a milk product, it's also high in calcium, which is sure to make your bones happy. Furthermore, a 2016 research study in Nutritional Neuroscience showed yogurts with probiotics, like Greek yogurt, had beneficial effects on the health parameters of lab workers.

Plain Greek yogurt is very tart, and adding flavor contributes to unwanted calories and sugars. If you can't get past the consistency or taste, try a more mellow alternative by throwing in some cottage cheese. Cleveland Clinic states cottage cheese contains 11 grams of protein in about a ½-cup serving. It also has other nutrients like potassium, selenium, and phosphorus. While cottage cheese might come out of the package with curds, it blends up nicely and melts into the flavor of your smoothie. Additionally, registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, R.D., L.D., told Cleveland Clinic, "Full-fat cottage cheese and full-fat Greek yogurt have the same amount of fat, but cottage cheese has 25% more protein."

No cottage cheese in the fridge? Consider throwing in some ricotta cheese to pack on the protein. This cheese blends like cottage cheese and has 12.6 grams of protein in ½ cup, per My Food Data.

Add the perfect amount of protein with nuts and seeds

Adding protein to your smoothie is easy when you think like a squirrel. Nut proteins are easy to add when in butter form and they give you a healthy dose of nutritious vitamins and fats. For example, peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons. It also ranks high in monosaturated fats and is an excellent source of vitamin E. 

However, peanut allergies affect about 1.8% of the population in the U.S., according to Frontiers in Public Health. Those with an allergy might be able to enjoy the protein in other tree nut butters like almond (7 grams), cashew (6 grams), or walnut (5 grams). Almonds are also a great source of non-milk calcium at 385 milligrams in a cup, per Medical News Today. Additionally, WebMD notes that eating a small amount of cashews daily provides a reduction in bad cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease. When it comes to walnuts, these tree nuts are an impressive source of omega-3, which can benefit depression and improve heart disease risks, per Cleveland Clinic.

If all tree nuts are off the table due to allergies or gut issues, look to seeds for protein. Healthline boasts that flaxseeds contain 5 grams of protein per ounce, while chia seeds contain about 4 grams. Hemp seeds also have an impressive nearly 9 grams of protein for an ounce. They are also a perfect source of fiber and blend into any recipe with ease.

Slip some soy into your smoothie

Go beyond soy milk for a rich and creamy smoothie with loads of protein. Edamame is a tiny green soybean considered one of the best plant protein sources. Emma Newell, R.D., LDN, a registered dietitian, told Real Simple, "This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids, which is great for vegetarians and vegans, as it can be difficult to find plant-based options that are complete protein sources." And, with a whopping 18 grams per cup, it's hard to go wrong. It also sports heart-healthy fats and micronutrients like iron, copper, vitamin K, and folate. Create a delicious green smoothie by combining edamame with green apple and mango to give it just the right amount of sweetness.

If green isn't your color, silken tofu might be more your style. This style of tofu is left unpressed, so it has a creamy, custard-like consistency, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). A half cup of silken tofu contains 9 grams of protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals, according to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Additionally, the AHA states that tofu and soy contain isoflavones, which have various health benefits. For example, a 2019 study in Molecules showed these compounds were chemoprotective and could be used as alternative therapies for hormonal disorders.

Bulk your protein smoothie up with beans and lentils

Among plant-based proteins, soy is the king. However, variety helps to keep your smoothie fun. Other plant-based proteins like beans can give you a good protein punch in the morning or post-workout. Nicole Hopsecger, R.D., L.D., told Cleveland Clinic, "Beans and legumes are fiber-rich nutrient powerhouses and an excellent source of protein. One serving (½ cup cooked) of beans provides about 7 grams of protein, the same as 1 ounce of meat."

When edamame isn't in the fridge, grab some lentils for your nutritious drink. Cooked lentils have 17.9 grams of protein, per My Food Data. They are also where it's at for folate, fiber, iron, potassium, and manganese (per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). It was also found that lentil starch is good at delaying the absorption of carbohydrates. Try creating a green smoothie with green apple, cinnamon, and ginger. You get a protein boost, and your sweet tooth is satisfied.

Beyond just the lovely lentils, other legumes like large white beans, cranberry beans, split peas, pinto beans, and kidney beans have more than 10 grams of protein per cup and are easy to slip into your smoothie recipe, per My Food Data. Adding sweet fruits and other veggies like cucumber helps to round out the flavor and gives you a sweet treat to start your morning.