Education, Food Truth, Macronutrients, Nutrient Basics, Toxins

The Best Whey and Vegan Protein Powders

Hearing that you need protein in your diet is old news, but what’s new is that not all proteins are created equally, especially when it comes to protein powders. Protein powders are our answer to life on-the-go, restricted diets, and goals to a fit and lean body. That is because proteins are the “workhorse” molecules of life, taking part in essentially every structure and activity of life. They are building materials for our tissues, whether that be our vital organ and glands, our hair and nails, or our muscles and they carry oxygen while also composing our blue print for life, DNA. Therefore, making sure that you are getting adequate protein is essential to a proper diet, especially for those of us that lean towards a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian diet. So with so many protein powders to choose from, how can we decipher which are the right choices for us?
Check out my choices for the best whey and vegan protein powders.

*To learn more about the importance of protein, read Vegan Protein.


National Institute of General Medical Sciences

National Institute of General Medical Sciences


Every protein powder claims to be the best – the cleanest, the most bioavailable, the most “complete,” and the most effective for building long, lean muscles. What they do not tell you is that protein powders, just like processed foods, can contain a host of nasty ingredients that are not only detrimental to your health, but may also impair weight loss, muscle building and energy production, and cause damage to the kidneys. Therefore, in order to decide which protein powder to grab off the shelf and invest in, I am going to give you a snap shot of what I believe to be the best and worst protein powders on the market.

To start you off, I am going to give you an overview of all the ingredients to watch out for when reading the nutrition labels of a protein powder. While I am going to give you a list of my personal favorites below, if there is a protein powder that you want to use, make sure it meets the standards before buying.


Top ingredients to avoid in whey and vegan protein powders:


1. Artificial Sweeteners  (Acesulfame potassium, Sucralose etc.)

Acesulfame potassium: As with other artificial sweeteners, there is concern over the safety of Acesulfame potassium. It is thought to be potentially carcinogenic, stressful to insulin production, may impair cognitive function, and may affect prenatal development. Other reported concerns with Acesulfame potassium are nausea, headaches, mood problems, impairment of the liver and kidneys, and problems with eyesight.

Sucralose: Sucralose, also known as Splenda, leads to more immediate side effects such as abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea, head and muscle aches, bladder issues, skin irritation, dizziness and inflammation. In addition, splenda has shown to reduce the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent, increases the pH level in the intestines, and may contribute to loss of vision. More serious complications includes an increased risk for leukemia, and damage to the thymus gland.

Aspartame: Also known as NutraSweet and Equal, aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. There are over 90 reported side effects that range from depression and fatigue, to hearing and eyesight loss, to vertigo and tinnitus. Aspartame converts into formaldehyde in the body, which can wreak havoc on your DNA and sensitive proteins, and disrupt normal neurotransmitter functioning.

Weight gain: Substantial research now indicates that artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain, rather than weight loss. Researchers found that consuming the sucralose was associated with higher blood sugar peaks and 20 percent higher insulin levels compared with consuming the water, which can lead to weight gain and even diabetes. Artifical sugars trick your body into thinking that it is going to receive calories to use for energy and other functions, and when it does not, it causes stress. This then leads the body to call for the additional intake of calories, which increases cravings (most always for unhealthy junk foods) and the consumption of more calories.

Artificial Sugar in Protein

Artificial Sugar in Protein

2. Conventional (non-organic) Soy Protein and Soy Lecithin

Soy has made it way into almost all foods and protein powders, and it is NOT a health food. First off, soy contains phytoestrogens, which are a compound that disrupts normal hormone balance. It mimics estrogen in the body, suppressing circulating estrogen and progesterone leading to lower testosterone levels and the weakening of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This can lead to hormone imbalance, increasing the chances of infertility, weight gain, and breast cancer. Secondly, conventional soy is almost always, if not always, genetically modified. GMO foods have a laundry list of potential health effects ranging from altered metabolism, inflammation, kidney and liver malfunction, and reduced fertility. Finally, soy contains natural nutrition inhibitors known as phytic acid, which reduces assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. While fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh have a lower level of the nutrient inhibitors, this is not the form of soy used in protein powders.

What about Soy Lecithin? Soy lecithin is very commonly found in food products especially protein powders. It is the fat component of soy. Because the fat has been extracted from the soy, one does not have to worry about the genetically modified portion of the soy (that is contained in the protein), but the phytoestrogenic properties are still present.

Last but not least, soy extraction is most always done with hexane. Yes, hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining. It is used in the food business as a solvent to separate the oil from the protein. Hexane is classified as an air pollutant by the EPA and as a neurotoxin by the CDC, but they do not know to what extent it can cause damage from consumption. My recommendation? If you are going to consume soy, only consume 100% organic, because you will reduce your risk of consuming hexane. Whether they have determined its health effects or not, I would rather not be the guinea pig.



3. Conventional (non-organic) Whey

Whey comes from milk, and is a natural byproduct of cheese-making. Cows in non-organic dairies are often injected with growth hormones, antibiotics and chemicals to increase the production of milk, and are fed genetically modified grain laden with pesticides. As a result, non organic dairy (milk and cheese) contains antibiotics, pesticides and hormones, all of which are toxic to the body. These toxins can cause resistance to antibiotics, damage to our cells, and interrupt our hormone balance leading to weight gain (especially around the hips, stomach and chest area), mood and menstrual disorders. Studies have even shown pesticides and hormones to be carcinogenic and can also be linked to early onset of puberty. These are the main reasons why you only want to consume organic dairy.

The majority of these toxins are found in the fat portion of dairy (milk, cheese, cream and butter), and whey is the protein section of dairy. Therefore, the risk of exposure to these toxins from consuming whey is not nearly as high as consuming other dairy products. With that being said, most of us use our protein powder every day, oftentimes multiple times a day, and so the chronic use leads to a higher exposure. While the toxins may be present in more scant amounts, they are still there, accumulating in the body over time. That is why my recommendation is to only consume organic whey, not conventional whey.

4. New Protein Powders – first batch runs

If you have kept up with the news in regards to supplements and work out performance products, than you probably have heard the mention of steroids and drugs. Unfortunately it is a common practice for steroids and stimulating drugs to be added into protein formulas. These additions help to deliver quick results for those taking it, leading to “street cred” and therefore rapid sales when a new product is first released on the market. This is a practice used by many companies, especially those companies that are marketing under the body building brand. Steroids and drugs are not typically added long term though – oftentimes eliminated after the first batch or run of the product. That is because these companies do risk being discovered by the FDA, so they take them out as soon as they get the BUZZ they need to ensure successful sales. My recommendation is to wait to purchase a protein powder until it has been on the market for at least 6 months. This way you have a better chance of avoiding harmful drugs or steroids.

5. Artificial Colors

If you see any mention of artificial colors (yellow #5, blue #1, red #40) in a protein powder, do not eat it. Artificial colors have now been shown in research to have a connection to cancer and to behavioral disorders, such as ADD and ADHD. Besides, do you really need your protein powder to blueberry blue or sunflower yellow? Avoid at all costs.

Artificial Colors in Protein Powder

Artificial Colors in Protein Powder

Added Bonus: Cold Processed Whey

Most whey is heat processed. When whey is processed with heat, the nutrients are damaged. The high heat damages the amino acids that make up the protein, and the nutrients that give whey its immune supporting qualities are minimized. Therefore, it is best to purchase whey that has been cold processed. This prevents the protein from being denatured, and helps to keep the nutrients in their natural state. Just like you don’t want to eat processed food products like chips, crackers and packaged foods, you do not want to eat processed whey protein either.

Note about Heavy Metals

The presence of heavy metals in protein powders (mostly vegan) has been in the media quite often lately, and so I think it is worth mentioning. To start, heavy metals are in our soil, and in the soil everywhere. To what degree depends on the location, and the environmental conditions of an area. Therefore, all of our food contains certain levels of heavy metals. From the carrots and celery you snack on, to the lettuce and kale you put in your salad, you are consuming heavy metals in every bite. So why is it in the media?

For one, certain states such as California have changed their legislation. They have lowered the limits of heavy metals that must be reported, to levels that are not actually hazardous to the consumer. In fact, there is much debate over these new limits, since scientists and experts on the topic are claiming that a bowl of salad would contain more heavy metals than what is legal based on the new laws. Therefore, because of this legislation, products and supplements now all have to have a warning label stating that metals are present, when in fact the level that they are present in their product is no more than what you would normally consume in a day eating healthy organic produce.

To sum it up, I would not drive yourself crazy about metals being present in your protein powders. Just stick with the best and highest quality brands, and you should be good to go. While there can be protein powders with toxic levels of heavy metals, if you are purchasing the high quality ones like I mention, most likely you will be okay. You should also consider contacting the protein powder companies directly to find out more. They all should have heavy metal analysis reports that they can easily send to you, and if they don’t look for another company.

If you currently have high levels of metals already present in your body, consider taking a natural chelator such as cilantro or chlorella. These foods bind to metals in the body and carry them out. So if you want to err on the side of safety, throw some cilantro and chlorella into your protein shake every day. Make sure to purchase a chlorella that is broken cell wall for optimal absorption. My favorite is Detox-ND by Premier Research Labs or Chlorella Manna Powder by HealthForce. The Detox ND is more appropriate if you have known heavy metal toxicity, and the Manna Powder is better for ongoing prevention, which in my opinion is always a good idea.

Heavy Metals in Soil

Heavy Metals in Soil

The best whey and vegan protein powders

The following powders are my favorite based on taste and quality. I have not tried each and every one, so if you have a recommendation that fits our criteria, please let me know if the comments!

The Best Whey Proteins

1. Tera’s Whey (goat and cow)

Teras Whey









2. The Organic Whey


The Organic Whey






3. Raw Organic Whey


Organic Whey










4. Whey Natural!

Whey Natural USA









5. Essential Living Foods Whey


Essential Living Foods









6. Source Organic Whey Protein


Source Organic Whey









7. Mattole Valley Naturals (Cow and Goat Whey)

Mattole Valley Naturals







8. Dolce Whey by Onnit

best grass fed whey protien powder


The Best Vegan Protein

1. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Protein (pea, cranberry, hemp)

Sunwarrior Warrior Blend









2. Sunwarrior Classic Rice Protein(brown rice)

Sunwarrior Rice Protein









3. Mattole Valley Naturals (tocotrienols, hemp, chia, maca)

Mattole Valley Naturals Plant Protein









4. Essential Living Foods Wild Protein (Hemp, Coconut Milk Powder, Chia, Moringa, Spirulina, Milk Thistle, Burdock Root)

Essential Living Foods Wild Protein









5. Vega Sport Performance Protein(pea, saviseed, brown rice, alfalfa)

Vega Sport Protein









7.Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein (hemp)

Manitoba Hemp Protein









8. Perfect Fit Protein(brown rice)

Perfect Fit










9. Green Dream by Philosophie(hemp, chia, tocotrienols, maca, spirulina, mesquite)

Green Dream by Philosophie









Closing Thoughts: Finding the best whey and vegan protein powders is worth the effort and the price. One of the first things that you may notice is the cost of these products. They are not cheap. The reason being is their quality. Just like organic produce or the best cut of meat is expensive, or even the nicest clothes or cars, so is protein powder. It is no different, and you should not view it as so.

My solution to you is to use these protein powders sparingly – once a day. Use them as an adjunct to the protein that you are getting from food so that your total intake for the day is optimal. If you are raw, vegan or vegetarian, this is going to be a bit more difficult, but there are plenty of plant-based foods that contain protein. Check out my Plant-Based Protein Guide to get an idea of which foods can act as your protein source. Another great way to increase your protein is to take an amino acid supplement. This is going to be particularly essential if you are working out and trying to build muscle, have a hard time eating enough food to meet your protein needs, or are still growing (for those kiddos out there). I personally like Branched Chained Amino Acids by Pure Encapsulations. Finally, this list is not the end all be all. I have not tried every single protein powder out there, so there are bound to be others. If there is a protein powder at your local store that you want to try, just make sure to read the ingredients. You now have the tools that you need to make an informed choice about your protein powders, so use it! Just make sure to with us what you think are the best whey and vegan protein powders.

Remember that almost ALL cheaper protein powders contain one or more toxic ingredients, and that is precisely why they are cheap. You do NOT want to be eating a toxic protein powder. I have seen this cause a lot of stress to the system, even leading to more severe kidney conditions, especially in those that are eating large amounts of the protein daily.

Happy Protein Hunting!!



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  • Reply Dana Ward May 26, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you for writing this! It is very helpful!

  • Reply Jaime July 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    What are your thoughts on Shakeology?

  • Reply Oscar August 4, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Hi Lauren!

    Great article on protein powders! You forgot to mention Native Whey Protein! Native whey protein is cold filtered directly from milk and not the cheese-by-product.

    Have a look at Bare Blends Native Whey Proteins.

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale August 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Oh that looks great! I have not used that one yet. Excellent for those in New Zealand and Australia!

      • Reply John January 17, 2015 at 2:44 pm

        Here’s one for those in the UK: – organic, cold processed and additive free too. I recommend it.

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  • Reply Gerald February 9, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Here’s another one.I’m a pre diabetic bodybuilder and i use this quite alot
    (i use to use Dymatize Iso-100 Hydrolysate Whey but it contains sucralose)
    Nature’s Food Plant Based Fit Protein $47.00 at GNC 1.76 lb. container
    1 scoop (40g)
    Calories 150
    Total Fat 2g
    Cholesterol 0mg
    Carbohydrates 6g
    Fiber 5g
    Sugars 1g (unfortunately)
    Protein 28g

    Vegan,Non-GMO,Soy-Free,Gluten-Free,Lactose-Free,No Artificial Sweeteners,
    No Artificial Flavors,No Preservatives

    Other Ingredients:
    Organic Rice Protein Concentrate
    Organic Inulin
    Organic Natural Flavors
    Organic Guar Gum
    Organic Rebaudioside A

    Weight Loss Plus Blend 350mg:
    Green Coffee Bean Extract
    Organic Alfalfa Leaf and Stem
    Organic Mangosteen Fruit Powder

  • Reply lando February 20, 2015 at 5:30 am

    vegan proteins+ sports nutrition sportive

    non gmo all organic

  • Reply Stephen McCarthy April 26, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    My son 19 is doing professional soccer and his physical trainer envcouraged him to take protein shake after his gym session. I am afraid of kidney side effects etc and managed to find one protein shake (sunburst superfoods) Vega sport Performance. Do you thing that this is a good product with the less side effects?

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale April 30, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Stephen, yes that is totally fine. As long as he is not strictly eating meat products and loads of protein shakes he will be fine. An important addition is ensuring that he is drinking plenty of filtered water, and is rehydrating with minerals which can come from fresh greens in the form of juice, smoothies, or raw (cucumbers, celery, kale), and raw coconut water.

  • Reply Jennifer May 1, 2015 at 4:03 am

    I have tried a majority of the organic protein powders. While it doesn’t mix as easily as say, Tera’s Whey, the organic whey produced by Protein 17 (organic and grass-fed) is the absolute best I have ever found.

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale May 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Oh great! Will have to give that one a try. Vital Whey blends well too!

  • Reply Brad May 3, 2015 at 2:55 am

    Great, informative post! Do you happen to have a source for the information regarding steroids in first run batches of whey protein powders? I’ve been looking all over but only finding rumors about this and would like to cite a primary source for a paper if possible. Thanks!

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale May 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Brad, my main sources for this information is from the manufacturers themselves, those in the body building supplement industry, and from lawyers that deal with litigation around false claims and additives in nutrition products. Consumer reports is the other best source. Check it out starting HERE.

  • Reply Eric May 24, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    I’m in the market to buy some kale powder looking for the best or good one to buy an from ware to buy it from an is Fuji kale any good Thanks.

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale June 2, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      Hey Eric, if you are looking to boost your vitamins/minerals etc. from greens like kale, I would suggest going a step farther and purchasing a greens powder that contains a blend of foods. This increases the diversity and its ability to also cleanse the body. My personal favorite is this greens powder. It also contains chlorella and blue green algae which are great detoxifiers.

  • Reply Annelise July 10, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    What are your thoughts about Orgain Organic protein powder? We just started using protein powders in our morning smoothies. Currently we are using the Orgain chocolate fudge flavor. I am concerned about possible lead being present in it as it is plant based.

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren aka The Holy Kale July 31, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Annelise, that product does look better than some, although I am not a huge fan of all the thickeners used. These would include acacia gum, xantham gum, and guar gum. Oftentimes these gums irritate the digestive system and may lead to bloating, indigestion and gas. Take notice and make sure it is not irritating you in that way. Also, in regards to the lead, just give the company a call and inquire to their testing methods for heavy metals and ask if there is a certification available to review. They should be very helpful 🙂

      • Reply Tracey August 6, 2015 at 7:21 pm

        Hi Lauren, I have been using Orgain vegan shakes for the past 2 to 3 weeks thinking they are healthy I do believe they’re probably healthy so I was beginning to be confused when I started having an upset stomach and using the bathroom constantly which I don’t normally do.I was suspicious of the shakes but kept reading the ingredients and couldn’t really find anything that probably would bother me. Thank you so much for your information I will stop the shakes and I’m sure it is the thickening ingredients. I’m not sure if I need extra protein I eat a healthy diet but it sure is convenient as I don’t eat breakfast and I’m always on the run. Can you suggest some healthy cereal bars or shakes for that purpose. Thank you so much!

        • Lauren The Holy Kale
          Reply Lauren The Holy Kale August 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

          Switch to the Sunwarrior protein powder and then just follow my kale smoothie recipe. You can always adapt it using different green vegetables, fruits, avocado, seed butters etc. for variation 🙂

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  • Reply Ursula September 9, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Hello Lauren,

    what do you think about Body by Vi and Herbalife protein shakes?
    Thanks a lot.

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale September 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Ursula, the Body by Vi and Herbalife protein powders contain a long list of processed ingredients, not whole foods. I would NOT suggest these protein powders. A good rule of thumb is to look through the ingredient lists. You can quickly see that they are not words that you recognize, meaning that they are synthetic, processed, and not whole foods by nature. Try the Sunwarrior protein powder or the Tera’s Whey. Those are a couple of my favorites. I hope that helps!

  • Reply Emma October 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Hi Lauren,
    What’s your opinion of Arbonne’s protein powders?

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale November 10, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Emma, I do love the mix of plant based proteins that they use, but I am not a huge fan of all the extra additives/binders that they use. If you check out their ingredient list you will notice corn starch, xanthan gum, gum acacia, and guar gum. First off, I could not find out if it is free of GMOs which would be my first concern since it uses corn starch. Corn is one of the top GMO (genetically modified) crops. Second, while the gums they use are “natural” they can cause bloating, gas and indigestion in many people. They are used as thickeners and I find many people do not react well with these. I prefer powder blends that stay away from too many thickeners like these. Hope that helps!

      • Reply Emma November 11, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        Thanks, Lauren. I appreciate your input!

  • Reply Emily February 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Hey! My husband and I have just started on the journey of whey protein powders and are approaching very cautiously. The EnergyFirst powders were recommended to us, what are your thoughts on those? We used Tera’s Whey and really liked those! Thanks!

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale February 29, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      HI Emily, it looks pretty good. I just would inquire to see if the cows are also fed corn along with grass. Most cows are and that causes concern for GMO feed. That is why I like Teras because they are organic, which prevents use of GMO corn. But overall, does not seem to be a bad choice!

  • Reply Angela March 7, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    What are your thought in both Better body livfit superfood protein blend( vegan gluten free, organic,gmo free no artificial flavors, colors,sweetners or sugar)and Better body foods organic livfit plant protein( vegan, soy free, non gmo sang gluten free.Do you think they are safe.

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale March 7, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Angela, from what I can see it looks like a good product! I would just double check with the company to see what they use for “natural flavors.” Best of luck!

      • Reply Angela March 13, 2016 at 5:33 am

        Thanks for Your help Lauren, I Also had a few more questions about the protein powder products in general. I was doing some research and found that some brands contained high levels of heavy metals. Eventhough that brand was not one of them it got me to thinking and I called the company they assured me that all levels were below the regulations of prop 65,I guess what I wanted to know is why are they in there anyways and I know some say we eat the same amount of some metals in fruits and veggies but is that safe at any number. What are your thoughts ? If you would like the numbers I could give them to you. Thanks for all your help.Also would you consider it a safe product to take if you are breastfeeding.

  • Reply Sheena March 27, 2016 at 12:30 am

    What do you think of Natural Stacks protein?

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale March 29, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      Hi Sheena, just checked them out and thanks for sharing… it looks great actually! Love that it is non-GMO, grassfed (no antibiotics, hormones etc.) whey, and that they add colostrum and collagen, and only use vanilla bean and cacao bean. GREAT product! Thanks!

  • Reply Tiffany April 6, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Great article! What are your thoughts on Whey Concentrates vs Whey Isolates? Any cautionary tales for choosing either? Thoughts on BlueBonnet 100% Natural Whey Protein Isolate Powder?

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale April 8, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Hi Tiffany, the main difference btn the concentrate and the isolate is the lactose. If you have any irritability or sensitivity to lactose (dairy) then I would use the isolates. The isolates do not have the lactose in the same way the concentrates do. Some people also claim the isolates are better absorbed, but that is controversial since the concentrates have co-factors etc. that also help with digestion. Blue Bonnet looks good in terms of being free of hormones and antibiotics and is grass fed. Best of luck!

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  • Reply Brie February 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Hi Lauren, what do you think of Garden of Life, Proteins and Greens, lightly sweet (no stevia) protein powder?

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale February 20, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Brie, that looks like a fine formula. I would just make sure it does not cause any digestive distress like bloating or gas. Many of the powders that have added greens and fiber, or that use stevia can cause those issues in some.

  • Reply Izzat Bas April 22, 2017 at 12:06 am

    Hi Lauren,
    What do you think about isopure whey protein isolate unflavored? I have been using it for 6 months. I have allergy to peanuts what do you recommend as a protein bar supplement . Really appreciate your help and sharing your knowledge.

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale April 23, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Looks pretty good from what I can see on their site. Check out my post on protein bars here. I have listed the ingredients of all so you can see which ones are peanut free. There are a lot of good options there, especially those that are peanut-free, low in sugar and higher in protein. Oatmega is one of my favorites.

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