Vegan Protein Powders—Here’s What to Look for in Plant-Based Protein
Authored by Trevor Hiltbrand
If you’re vegan/vegetarian or loosely follow a plant-based diet, it can be difficult to consume enough high-quality protein each day. Removing lean meat and fish off the menu makes protein intake a challenge--especially if you’re trying to increase muscle mass, or even maintain your body composition.
The good news: plant-based protein powders have become increasingly more popular among both athletes and health-conscious individuals.
For years, whey protein has been a go-to, but now many people are seeing the vast benefits of vegan protein powder, too. And plant-based protein powders aren’t strictly designed for vegans; this type of supplement offers a beneficial source of both protein and fiber for anyone focused on health optimization, or anyone intolerant of whey protein.
That being said, there’s a wide selection of protein powders to choose from--plant-based or not. And many protein powders sneak in unnecessary ingredients or don’t offer the quality ingredients needed to produce desired results or health benefits.
Here, we want to talk about what to look for in plant-based protein to ensure positive results in your weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance goals, along with finding a tasty option without the unnecessary additives.
What to Look for
Choosing a lower quality vegan protein powder is the last thing we want for you in attaining your health goals. It’s likely you’re a careful consumer and you want the cleanest plant-based protein powder available. Here’s how to avoid sneaky protein powders that will actually push you away from your goals:
When you think about rice protein, pea protein, wheat protein, etc., you’re likely to think these are perfect options for your vegetarian or vegan needs. But be mindful that a lot of these are single-source protein powders--meaning, they don’t contain the nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) that you need for complete protein intake. Other vegetarian options, like chia seeds, are complete but don’t carry very much total protein.
Animal-based products, like meat and eggs, commonly carry these nine essential amino acids, putting vegans/vegetarians or plant-based athletes at a disadvantage.
To ensure you’re consuming all the essential amino acids, opt for a complete protein powder that comes with a blend of the different plants. So, don’t go to the store and glance at the nutrition label only to see how much protein comes with each serving--carefully read through the ingredients and look for a blend of chia, pea, and rice protein, for example. They’re out there.
No two protein powders are created equal. Again, don’t just skim over the label. Opt for a vegan protein powder that’s rich in micronutrients. Take pumpkin protein, for example, it’s high in magnesium and potassium. Pea protein also offers a large amount of calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamin E. Don’t only focus on the protein. The intake, or lack of, other nutrients will also play into your overall health.
Research shows that a poorly constructed vegan diet (or vegan protein powder, in this case), can result in micronutrient or macronutrient deficiencies. This is particularly concerning to health officials, especially if little to no attention is put on the nutrients that are left out due to removing animal-based products from the diet.
A vegan diet offers plenty of other performance and energy benefits, but just be mindful of this when selecting your protein powder.
Plant-protein should be organic. Sounds obvious, right? Well, many powders carry protein from plants that are accompanied by a whole lot of pesticides. This has been commonly found with soy protein, in particular. And even if those pesticides don’t make it directly to your system, they’re harming the planet. Vegan or not, care about your environment and find an organic option.
Choosing a protein powder that is or isn’t sustainably sourced won’t necessarily alter your health and body goals. But if you value going completely organic, it’s likely you value the environment. Some ingredients are planted and harvested at a cost--a cost of the environment, or even the people that grow these particular ingredients.
There are plenty of vegan protein powders on the market that come with the “sustainably sourced” or “Non-GMO certified” label, which brings us to our next point...
Selecting a protein option that’s either Non-GMO or GMO will affect your health. While research hasn’t yet provided the long-term effects of GMO crops on our health, it just might be comforting to consume foods and supplements that haven’t been mixed in with extraordinary levels of pesticides.
While you don’t have to choose a grain-free vegan protein powder, we recommend it--especially if you’re gluten intolerant or on a Paleo diet. Luckily, there are a lot of solid options to meet your needs: pea protein, hemp protein, spirulina, etc.
Most importantly, we want you to feel good about knowing exactly what you’re putting into your body. This comes down to every last ingredient. The fewer ingredients on a label, the better. Here’s where it gets tricky: balancing completely clean protein, with the actual taste of the product. We don’t want you to compromise either.
Several plant-based protein powders on the market have a gritty texture combined with a bitter taste, and sometimes an off-putting color. Sound appetizing? Nope. To fix the problem, some companies add in a ton of synthetic sweeteners, artificial flavors, fillers, and/or artificial coloring. Or, they’ll go right ahead and load up the powder with pure sugar (honey, agave, and coconut sugar do in fact count as sugar).
Be sure to watch out for suspicious ingredients. Some sweeteners to avoid:
- Coconut sugar
- Brown rice syrup
Instead, look for natural sweeteners like all-natural stevia or other natural flavors.
Why People are Going Vegan Altogether
It’s no surprise that we’re seeing more and more people transition to a complete vegan diet altogether. The world is shifting towards plant-based diets, but why? Apart from a love for animals, a plant-based diet is sustainable and has long-term health benefits compared to an animal-based diet.
Within recent years, 1475 participants (104 of whom were vegan) were surveyed through a food frequency questionnaire. The survey showed that a vegan diet received the highest diet quality score according to the Healthy Eating Index and the Mediterranean Diet Score. On the other hand, unrestricted omnivores received the lowest score.
As vegan diets have become more widely accepted, nutrition experts say that they’re useful in managing and combating diseases, ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. Vegan diets might also be useful in treating obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular risk, and standing up against inflammatory conditions.
But in terms of current health or weight loss goals, people are trying the vegan approach to eliminate unwanted fat. Through a study that tested the plant-based diet on body composition and insulin resistance, a plant-based diet proved to be the better approach for improving body weight, fat mass, and insulin. Between the two control groups, only the vegan group showed dramatic reductions in body weight. Furthermore, the decrease in fat mass was linked to an increased intake of plant-based protein.
So, be careful not to ridicule those around you who go on an all plant-based diet to optimize their health. There’s a lot of truth to what the diet claims to do, and evidently isn’t just another fad.
Just as Effective as Whey Protein
Some athletes or skeptics think that you can’t achieve the same body and health goals with vegan protein as you would with animal-based protein. Wrong.
You can put out the same amount of work with vegan protein powders as you would with whey protein powders. A recent systematic review showed that despite differences in macro- and micronutrient intake between plant-based diets and animal-based diets, exercise performance doesn’t differ between vegetarians/vegans and omnivores. The studies involved recreational athletes, but it is implied that the same goes for elite athletes.
The study also argued that while plant-based protein may not offer up any particular advantages over animal-based products like whey protein, it certainly doesn’t lend itself to any disadvantages in performance or health, either. Whichever your preference is, just know you can obtain the same results.
All in One Protein Powder
Implementing a plant-based protein powder into your diet--whatever the reason--will give you the correct protein intake you need, help you fight off disease, and improve your overall health...if you’re using quality plant-based protein.
Again, a lot of vegan protein powders are loaded with too many artificial sweeteners or don’t have enough ingredients to give you the essential amino acids. Our ProteinSeries Organic Vegan protein powder at Transparent Labs hits all the marks because it’s made up of rice and pea protein, completely free of artificial flavoring and sweeteners, is USDA Organic Certified and still tastes good! In addition, it’s easy on the digestive system and doesn’t have that gritty texture you might find in other protein powders.
Remember: vegan protein is not just for people on a strict vegan diet. If you’re a health-conscious person wanting to focus on total health optimization, fuel your body with this plant-based option today.
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