Best Protein Powder for Vegans
March 30, 2016
For a long time, animal proteins dominated the protein powder landscape – whey and eggs were everywhere – leaving vegans with very few options. Now, however, things are much different. There are tons of different plant-based, vegan-friendly protein powders available.
So, vegans are no longer faced with the challenge of finding a protein powder. Instead, they have to try to figure out which is the best protein powder for their vegan lifestyle. Let’s take a look at some of the major contenders and see how they compare before trying to decide which one stands out.
By far the most common and popular plant protein, soy has a long history of use – with its popularity largely linked to the fact that it’s very cheap to grow. But soy is also unique in that it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the amino acids that our body cannot produce on its own. In the plant world, this is pretty unusual, as the vast majority of complete proteins are animal-based foods like meat and dairy.
Despite its sterling past, however, soy has come under fire recently. For one thing, the beans contain a substance that behaves very much like estrogen in the human body – which has the potential to increase cancer risks, as well as contribute to developmental problems in children.
However, other studies have concluded that soy protein can lower elevated LDL cholesterol levels, improve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, decrease the risk of developing breast cancer prior to menopause, lower the risk of prostate cancer,
Soy is also highly allergenic, with the ability to cause severe reactions in some people. It should also be noted that most soy now available in consumer products is a genetically modified organism. Soy also has the potential to interact with medications commonly taken for hypothyroidism.
That’s right, the humble yellow split pea is used for protein powder. While not a complete protein, peas still offer an impressive balance of amino acids. But, before you write them off completely, it’s important to remember that your body uses amino acids over the total course of the day. So, any other protein that you take in that day can easily fill in the nutritional gaps. Additionally, pea protein is a good source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
Pea protein powder is entirely allergen-free, however, making it a totally safe option for people who routinely struggle with food allergies or sensitivities. It is also absorbed relatively slowly compared to other vegan protein powders, which means it can help you feel fuller longer.
Interestingly enough, pea protein powder also has a naturally savory flavor, which means that it can be used in preparing many soups and sauces – adding flavor, texture and protein – in unexpected ways. Although some people do not care for the taste of pea protein, it is quite versatile.
Brown Rice Protein
In many ways, brown rice protein is very similar to pea protein. Again, rice protein powder is not a complete protein, as it is too low in the amino acid lysine, but its protein is considered to be high-quality. However, it makes up for this by being totally safe for people with allergies, as well as gluten-free.
Unlike pea protein, though, brown rice has a subtly sweet flavor which also means that it can have some interesting uses in baking and cooking. Brown rice is also associated with benefits related to improved body composition, so it is an ideal choice for the vegan bodybuilder or athlete.
Sourced from the seeds of the cannabis plant, this protein powder has gained some popularity recently. However, it should be noted that hemp protein only carries trace amounts of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC.
Nutritionally, hemp protein is pretty impressive. Hemp seeds are full of healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Although hemp is not a complete protein, it is only short two amino acids (it contains trace amounts of lysine and leucine), which can easily be made up from other dietary sources throughout the day. In terms of micronutrients, hemp protein is impressive – providing a good source of magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Hemp protein has a slightly nutty or earthy taste, which makes sense when you consider that it comes from a seed. Some people find that it does not mix well with water and tastes a bit gritty. However, it tends to be quite enjoyable when incorporated into a protein shake with other ingredients.
Unfortunately, hemp protein has been shown to have a much lower absorption rate than other plant-based, vegan protein powders. In other words, the listed amount of protein per serving is much higher than the amount your body will be able to absorb. Hemp protein powder also typically has less protein than other types to start with. If you’re looking to protein powder to make up the majority of your protein intake, hemp is likely not the best choice.
Additionally, because of its association with marijuana, hemp cultivation is very tightly regulated. Because of this, hemp is one of the most expensive protein powers available.
So, out of these four, which of these is the best protein powder for vegans? Really, it’s a tie between brown rice and pea protein. Although neither of these are complete proteins, they are rich in numerous amino acids and their amino acid profile can be completed through the rest of your healthy diet. Both proteins are hypoallergenic and full of other healthful plant nutrients. One is slightly sweet, while the other is a little savory, which may help you choose if you prefer to buy protein based on taste. You can also purchase vegan protein blends that can contain 2 or 3 different kinds of protein powder if you can’t make up your mind.