Better than Expected: Vega Protein Smoothie

In my quest to find a protein shake that won’t make my cholesterol go up and will leave me full for the morning (and actually provide, you know, protein) I have taken on a challenge to compare a variety of shake mixes. You can read about that here.

This review is for Vega Protein Smoothie in Viva Vanilla.  This is the *only* shake mix that got 3 or more thumbs-ups from the Facebook/Twitter request for recommendations, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

vegaThe flavor: undeniably vanilla with no pretensions and no aftertaste.  For the most part I blended it with soy milk (hey, extra protein!) but the instructions say it can be mixed with water and I tried that today — again, not bad.  I can definitely taste the flavor difference from my original shake but I’d be happy to substitute this permanently.

The texture: this is where things get interesting. I know the internet hates this word but here we go: moist. The protein powder itself is incredibly fine but also moist, and as a result if you are, say, working with a borrowed blender, be prepared to blend longer than a granular powder. Also, when mixed with psyllium husks if you don’t get the proportions just right you end up with an incredibly thick shake once it’s stood for a bit.  I’m a sip-while-puttering person myself, so that was an unpleasant surprise.  I fooled with the ratios and discovered the following: mixed with 8oz water and 2tbsp husks, it’s fairly watery and holds its consistency.  Mixed with 8oz of soy milk and 1tbsp husks, it’s a decent smooth shake (not watery but not stuck solid, either). Mixed with 8oz soy and 2tbsp husks, get ready for a spoon.  If not thoroughly blended you get pockets of pasty goo, I’d say it took about 1.5-2 minutes of solid blending to get the right consistency.

nutritionfactsThe vitals: This has 15 grams of protein (so about 3 less than my comparison point) but zero cholesterol and only 80 calories. Ingredients include broccoli and pea protein but the powder itself is a bland looking ecru and you’d never know you were eating vegetables (for those of you who like to be healthy but have an aversion to green things). (I have no such aversion). No fat, and 4 grams of carbs, not bad.

The performance: I stayed full each morning to lunchtime, which was the requirement, and that included morning runs for the most part.

The cost: you can get this off of Amazon for slightly under $13, for 12 servings; so slightly more than $1/serving.

Grade: A-.  Negative points for slightly less protein per serving and for texture toying. Would use again, but I’m on to the next blend. Stay tuned!


The Great Protein Shake-Off

After discovering my favorite protein shake was accounting for 20-30% of my cholesterol intake for the day*, I did what anyone else would do these days: I publicly whined about it on Facebook and Twitter. This promptly got me two pieces of information:one, that my initial feelings that I should get off of Facebook because I wasn’t sure it was useful were incorrect, and two, a ton of my friends have a favorite protein shake.

The Great Protein Shake-Off is simple: all of the protein shakes must have LESS cholesterol per serving than my current (reviewed below). They must be vanilla flavored (chocolates vary too easily and anyone on the receiving end of a caroby chocolate smoothie knows the gall bitter disappointment of said variance). They will be mixed with my usual ingredients: mixed berries (frozen, available at Trader Joes), Psyllium husks (a fiber additive, let’s not get into it), and unsweetened/unflavored soy milk.

Before we get into it: NO, I can’t use your favorite Almond milk or nut-based proteins. I’m allergic to tree nuts in a very go-to-the-Hospital, stop-breathing kind of way. Hence soy milk.

IMG_0135The Current: Designer Whey

With that, let’s look at the point of comparison, my protein shake for the last 3 months: Designer Whey in Vanilla. I can get this at my local Trader Joes for $11.99/container and each container has 12 servings so call it $1/serving.  It has a pretty basic vanilla-y flavor, not too rich and not too sweet; no aftertaste (which I like). It doesn’t tend to clump in the blender (which some do). I know we said we wouldn’t talk chocolate but if you don’t have to worry about your cholesterol they do have a good chocolate flavor.


IMG_0136Nutrition-wise, we are looking at 18 grams of protein per serving, 2 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, and a whopping 60mg of cholesterol (*it says this is 20% of my diet. AHA recommended cholesterol intake for someone with cardiovascular issues is 200mg/day. So no, this is more like 30% of my daily allowance).

I was thinking I’d just go back to Labrada — they have Labrada vanilla shakes at my gym — only to discover Labrada has MORE cholesterol, not less, so I will be gifting my recent Labrada purchase to David the Awesome Trainer who makes me bring my crying towel to the gym.

Maybe he will let me get away with less than 100 push ups.

The Contenders

Here are the contenders, as recommended from Facebook and by direct message. (HEY – if you’re reading this and you have a favorite and it’s not here, please dm me — I’ll try it. I even ordered some stuff from the UK). I will review each one for texture, flavor, cost, aftertaste, and anything else that occurs to me is potentially useful for someone considering these.

  1. Vega Protein Smoothie in Viva Vanilla flavor: I’m about to go on a trip and this will be my protein shake for the duration. Review to come in roughly a week. Recommended by friend from high school (it’s a measure of my trust in her that I am not taking a back up). Purchased from Amazon.
  2. Gold Standard Whey in Vanilla Ice Cream. Recommended from friend at work who thinks 10 mile runs are nbd. Reminds me a little of you, Tolga. Purchased from Amazon.
  3. Nutiva Hemp Protein in vanilla. Also recommended from friend from high school (different friend).  (Remember, I reached out on Facebook).  Purchased from Amazon.
  4. Premier Protein Vanilla shakes. Recommended from best friend’s hubs (also very good friend), purchasable from Amazon and Costco. Couldn’t find powder so going with premixed.
  5. Decibel Nutrition Madagascan Vanilla. Recommended from David the Trainer. Purchased from Decibel directly (not available via Amazon) and shipping currently from the UK.

Next post in roughly a week: Vega Protein Smoothie. DM any recommendations to me via Facebook or on Twitter (handle: bobbie.conti).

The Illusion of Control

It’s a testament that my Cardiologist remembers my father when he asks me why I’ve come to see him and I reply by saying “this” and hand him my laptop with my Cholesterol charted over the last 9 years. The chart was full-on Excel, broken out into the different types (HDL, LDL, Triglycerides, Total Cholesterol, and my ratio on a 2nd series). I am not the only one in my family to chart a bunch of things in Excel and come armed to a doctor’s appointment with data. “Ah,” he said, “You’re discovering that your cholesterol is going up in spite of what you do to make it not.”

I had explained about the diet and the exercise, I had explained about seeing it go down back in 2010 and in 2012 when I undertook larger physical activities (namely the Ride to Conquer Cancer and the STP), and how with Ragnar (last year and this) there was no downturn. With a restrictive diet there was no downturn.

I was prepared for him to tell me it is genetic (it is, both of my parents and their families have related histories) and I was prepared for him to tell me that short of “drastic changes” I wasn’t going to be able to make my LDL go down without help. I’m not a drastic person so I didn’t want to ask what “drastic changes” were, although I should have just for comparison.

Naturally, I expected him to whip out the ol’ prescription pad and prescribe a statin.


“With young healthy people,” he said, and I could have kissed him for the “young” part except I had already figured by the waiting room that I was a good 20 years younger than his usual patient, “I don’t like to put them on statins.”

There’s another reason he’s not putting me on a statin, and that is because I have osteoarthritis in my joints. I’m able to run because I have a fabulous physical therapist, orthodic inserts in my shoes, and I use Hokas. But statins tend to cause joint pain, and I already get joint pain if I’m not careful, so statins, for me, right now, are not the magic bullet. The plan is to take 3 additional supplements, for 3 months, and come back for another round of lipid panels. The 3 supplements? Vitamin D (5000 IU, rather than the 1000 I’m already taking), CoQ10, and Cholestene.

(Can we just take a second to have three cheers for a Cardiologist who is Director of Cardiology for the hospital chain and has been practicing some 30+ years, offering an initial alternative medicine approach? Usually you have to seek that out. )

So, here we go. We’ll give this a try and see if it works; I feel like I’m in good hands.

Next up: The Great Protein Shake Challenge!


Choices and Consequences

I have struggled with my weight pretty much all of my life.  I remember being roughly eight or nine, seeing that I had skinny calves — what 8 or 9 year old doesn’t? — and despite my chubby belly, thinking I was skinny and resolving to eat *more* to fill out the calves.

I remember being in high school and feeling overweight and the solution then was to just not eat (or more accurately try to skip lunch or replace lunch with diet pepsi). What I wouldn’t give to have the body I had in high school (okay, okay, minus the acne).

I remember being just back from the student exchange, freshman year of college, and weighing 230 pounds and knowing that the reason the random guy in Statistics class asked me out was because he knew I’d be grateful. (Sweetly verified by his friend in a side comment).

I remember going to the gym with  my friend Colleen — the person who introduced me to gyms and I wish it had been sooner — and by virtue of a hairy-chested trainer named Vinny and a spreadsheet of exercises, losing all of that weight and getting into the best shape of my life.

I remember thinking that was that and I wouldn’t have to struggle with my weight anymore. Then I got married at 200 pounds. I remember getting our wedding pictures and crying for two hours.

I remember eating nothing but Slimfast and Lean Cuisine when my then -husband (USMC) would deploy, walking 3 times a week and thinking I’d finally kicked it.

I remember moving back up to Washington in 2000, having gained it all back.

I remember deciding that if I was going to have a baby — my son was very, very planned — that I was going to need to be healthy if not for myself then for him. And so before I got pregnant (2002) I lost the weight again, and for the most part have kept it off (I have fluctuated by about 10 pounds here and there ever since). I have been in and out of gym memberships (the current one is the longest lasting) and signed up for random events (half marathons, a triathlon, a couple of double-century bike rides and a couple of Ragnars), and for the most part have been doing okay, weight-wise.

Here I am at 42 and the issue is not weight. I recently lost a little and that’s fine, but my goal has been health — being able to run, and trying to be good about what I put into my mouth. At my annual exam in April I got my blood tested and my cholesterol had eeked up; having a family history of cardiovascular problems I took it as a warning bell and tightened up: I quit dairy (except for nonfat greek yogurt and lowfat frozen yogurt). I quit red meat (ok, I had red meat twice in 3 months). I kept up the running (training for Ragnar helped). I took fiber daily. I haven’t had anything to drink since May 1st. Protein shakes for breakfast nearly every morning, with berries and bananas using soy milk.

Three months later I’m back at the doctor’s office, back giving blood, and my triglicerides went down but my LDL shot up 20 points. I have been tracking every bit of food I eat since February (I’ve been using MyFitnessPal off and on for about six years) and I couldn’t figure it out… until I looked at breakfast. My protein shake, the most virtuous thing about my day, has 25% of my daily recommended cholesterol. I wouldn’t have thought it — why would a *protein shake* have cholesterol (I mean, they engineer the crap out of the contents so why not engineer that out?). Vigilance, ever vigilance.

I have an appointment with a cardiologist this Wednesday. You know you get to sit at the big kids table at Thanksgiving dinner when you can not only chip in on the political debates and discussion about the markets, but you also have your own set of health issues to contrast and compare in on, and you officially have a Cardiologist (to go with your other specialist doctors).

So here I am: nearly 43. Weight-stable (losing a little still and that’s fine). Active. I have arthritis and high cholesterol, low blood pressure and Raynaud’s. I have three of those in check. Now I just have to lock down the fourth.

Once more into the breach, dear friends…