A sprinkle of protein powder combined with water or milk is a quick way to boost your intake of protein, a mineral that's essential for your survival. Unless you're a serious athlete or work out vigorously for several hours a week, you probably get plenty of protein from a healthy and well-balanced diet. If you're considering adding more protein to your diet, comparing protein powder and whole milk side-by-side can help you determine which is a better bet for healthy eating plan.
Calories, Fat and Protein
A 1-cup serving of whole milk contains 149 calories and about 8 grams of fat, of which 4.6 grams are saturated. A tablespoon of protein powder contains 45 calories and about 2 grams of fat, of which almost none is saturated. A diet high in saturated fat can raise your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and unhealthy weight gain. If you're on a low-fat diet, the protein powder is probably a better option if you're also trying to increase your protein intake. A cup of whole milk also supplies 7.7 grams of protein, which is 17 percent of the 46 grams women should have each day. A tablespoon of protein powder delivers 5 grams of protein.
Whole milk supplies more in the way of vitamins than protein powder does. For example, a cup of whole milk delivers 124 international units of vitamin D, which is 21 percent of the 600 international units women need each day. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which keeps your bones strong. A tablespoon of protein powder contains just 22 international units of vitamin D. Whole milk also supplies about twice as much vitamin A as protein powder. Vitamin A is essential for the health of your eyes but also plays a role in normal reproduction and white blood cell formation.
Whole milk is a good source of calcium, and you'll get 276 milligrams per cup. That's about 28 percent of the 1,000 milligrams you need each day. A tablespoon of protein powder contains only 55 milligrams of calcium. Protein powder contains a significantly higher amount of iron than whole milk. With about 1 milligram of iron, protein powder provides about 6 percent of your daily iron needs per tablespoon. Whole milk supplies more phosphorus for healthy bones, as well as more potassium for a healthy heart. Both whole milk and protein powder deliver small doses of zinc and magnesium.
The exact amount of each nutrient you get from whole milk versus protein powder depends on how much you consume. For example, if you use more than 1 tablespoon of protein powder, you might exceed the nutrients in a cup of whole milk. If you want to use protein powder but you're worried about your intake of other nutrients present in whole milk, use a powder that can be mixed into milk. That way you get the nutrients each has to offer at the same time. Use skim milk, though. It doesn't contain any saturated fat, while whole milk contains about one-fourth of your daily limit in each 1-cup serving. You'll still get the same amount of protein, calcium and vitamin D compared to whole milk.
Because whole milk contains such a large amount of fat, make it an occasional part of your diet rather than something you drink every day. You shouldn't use a huge amount of protein powder either. Too much protein is related to reduced kidney function, according to the Harvard University Gazette. Damage occurs because too much protein makes your kidneys work much harder than they should to use what you need and eliminate the rest. High amounts of protein can also lead to weight gain, according to Oregon State University. Protein powder contains calories, and if you consume large amounts, you might take in more calories than you're able to burn, which translates to weight gain.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Protein Supplement, Milk Based, Muscle Milk, Powder
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Milk, Whole, 3.25% Milkfat, With Added Vitamin D
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- Harvard University Gazette: Too Much Protein May Cause Reduced Kidney Function
- Oregon State University: Protein: Supplement or Sandwich?
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.