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Electronic benefits transfer (EBT) is an electronic system that allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient to receive and purchase food using their benefits.
SNAP — previously known as food stamps — is a federal nutrition program that supplements the food budget of certain individuals and families.
A certain amount of money is loaded on the recipient’s EBT card each month.
EBT cards work like debit cards, however, they can only be used at certain retailers and for certain goods.
In general, you can use SNAP benefits to purchase food items but not non-food items like vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements.
However, you may wonder whether EBT covers protein powder.
This article explains whether you can purchase protein powder and other protein supplements or shakes like Ensure or Boost using EBT.
What can you buy with EBT?
SNAP is a federal program that each state is responsible for administering (1).
Therefore, what you can and cannot purchase is determined at the federal level, not by the state in which you live.
- fruits and vegetables
- meats, poultry, and fish
- dairy products
- bread and cereals
- snack foods
- non-alcoholic beverages
- seeds and plants, which produce food
In contrast, you cannot use SNAP benefits to purchase:
- vitamins, minerals, and other supplements like pre-workouts
- live animals, except shellfish
- ready-to-eat hot foods, such as pizza or a rotisserie chicken
- pet food
- cleaning supplies, paper products, and other household supplies
- hygiene items or cosmetics
SNAP benefits cover food items such as bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and meats, but you cannot use your SNAP benefits to purchase non-food items, including dietary supplements.
Can you purchase protein powder with EBT?
You cannot purchase dietary supplements using EBT that have a supplement label, such as vitamins, minerals, or fish oil.
However, while generally recognized as a dietary supplement, you can purchase most protein powders using EBT.
This is because most manufacturers choose to label their protein powder as a conventional food instead of a dietary supplement (3).
For this same reason, you can purchase most energy drinks with EBT since they contain a nutrition label instead of a supplement label.
Less commonly, manufacturers label their protein powders as dietary supplements, which are not EBT-eligible.
Most collagen protein supplements are labeled as dietary supplements and are therefore not EBT-eligible.
You can use EBT to purchase protein powders that have a nutrition label but not a supplement label.
Types of protein powder
Of the various types of protein powder, whey protein is the most common and least expensive.
Whey is one of the two primary proteins in cow’s milk, the other being casein.
Both are high-quality forms of protein, but casein digests at a much slower rate than whey protein.
Whey protein comes in different forms, including concentrates and isolates, depending on how it’s processed.
Concentrates are the least processed and usually contain 70–80% protein by weight, whereas isolates are more processed but contain at least 90% protein by weight.
Generally, the more processing involved, the more expensive it is, making isolates significantly more expensive than whey, which usually contains a blend of concentrates and isolates.
However, most of the lactose in whey protein isolate is removed during the processing, making this form a good option if are lactose intolerant.
Otherwise, a whey protein concentrate is a good choice for most people since it’s widely available, a high-quality source of protein, and the most budget-friendly.
If you avoid dairy due to an allergy or for a different reason, there are other options available, including soy, pea, rice, beef, or egg white protein powders.
They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but they are all good for increasing your protein intake.
If you don’t have a milk allergy or avoid dairy for other reasons, a basic whey protein powder is best and most cost-effective option.
Where can you buy protein powder with EBT?
You can purchase protein powder with a nutrition label at any store that accepts EBT.
Most big-box retailers that sell food like Walmart and warehouse clubs like Costco as well as most grocery stores carry protein powder.
However, some grocery stores and other retailers may not accept EBT since the federal government does not mandate private businesses to accept the form of payment.
This tool called the SNAP retailer locator can help you find locations near you that accept EBT.
You can also purchase protein powder online from sites that accept EBT like Amazon.
To get started on Amazon, simply add your SNAP EBT card to your Amazon account.
Here is a list of EBT-eligible protein powders from reputable brands to get you started:
- Whey concentrate: Muscle Milk Genuine
- Whey Isolate: Dymatize Nutrition ISO100
- Casein: Optimum Nutrition 100% Casein
- Soy: NOW Sports Soy Protein Isolate
- Pea: NOW Sports Pea Protein
- Plant-based blend: Orgain Organic Protein
Remember, you can also purchase protein shakes and drinks.
Here are a few examples of EBT-eligible protein drinks:
Ensure and Boost are the most popular premixed nutrition drinks. You can learn more about the differences between them here.
Protein powders generally have a shelf-life of two years from their manufactured date if you store them properly.
You can find the manufactured date stamped — usually around the bottom — on most products.
You can purchase EBT-eligible protein powder and other protein drinks at most big box retailers that sell food or from sites that accept EBT like Amazon.
The benefits of protein powder
Protein powders are a convenient and often cost-effective way to increase your protein intake.
For example, 1 scoop of basic whey protein powder provides around 25 grams of protein for about $1.00, sometimes less if you find a good deal.
To get the same 25 grams of protein from a chicken breast or ground beef, you would spend around $1.30 (4).
However, the same isn’t true for plant-based protein powders like soy, pea, or plant-based blends.
This is because it costs much more to make plant-based protein powders compared with whey protein.
In either case, supplementing your diet with protein powder can help stretch your dollars further in many cases.
Beyond the potential cost savings, protein powder offers various benefits.
Increasing your protein intake with protein powder can strengthen your immune health, promote weight gain or loss, support muscle recovery and growth, and reduce muscle loss with aging.
The amount of protein you need daily varies depending on your activity level, body composition, age, and overall goals.
However, most adults can benefit from consuming protein above the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight in the range of 0.45 to 0.73 grams per pound (1 to 1.6 grams per kg) of body weight (5, 6).
This range translates to 68–206 grams of protein for a 150-pound (68-kg) person.
If you are older, physically active, or both, your protein goal should be on the higher end of this range.
Protein powder is an efficient and cost-effective way to boost your protein intake. Protein needs vary based on several factors like age, activity level, body composition, and overall goals.
The bottom line
SNAP — formally food stamps — are benefits that recipients can use to purchase food items using EBT.
You cannot use your SNAP benefits to purchase vitamins or mineral supplements but you can use EBT to purchase protein powder that contains a nutrition label — not a supplement label.
Pre-mixed protein drinks like Ensure as well as meal replacement powders with a nutrition label are also EBT eligible.
You can usually find protein powders in stores that sell food or on websites that accept EBT like Amazon.
For most people, a basic whey protein powder is the most cost-effective choice for boosting protein intake.